By Rachel Hoeing

A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents in Charlotte. As I was walking through the room I heard a story on the news …”Tonight a young man was shot after a dispute with his friend about a card game.” When they said the name and age (22) I stopped in my tracks. I had taught a student 12 years ago with this same name and he would be about 22 years old right now. I quickly became obsessed with the story and spent the next four days online trying to figure out if this was the same child I taught. His name was fairly common. There were no photos on the news reports or in his obituary.

I ended up calling the church in Charlotte where his memorial was to be held. I explained my story and told them that the only thing I had to go on was that I taught him during his third grade year and I gave the lady the name of the school. She put me on hold and when she came back, she stated, “Honey, it’s him.”

I instantly started crying on the phone. I could barely speak to this woman enough to tell her thank you and ask for an address to send a card. It was amazing to me how hard this hit me and how much it affected me. This is not the first time I had lost a former student, nor was it the first time I had lost a friend or relative who seemed way too young to die. The tears I shed for this man were unexpected. After all, I had not seen him in twelve years and knew nothing about his life. But somehow this story had taken over my world for those past four days and deep down I knew it was him all along who had been murdered.

All I could do was picture that sweet child in the third grade and how my main goal that year was to make him smile. He always seemed sad and he struggled quite a bit in school. He had already been retained once and still had a really tough year. He didn’t have many friends either. The thing I remember most about him was when he would come to my desk to ask me a question and I would spend the next minute giving him a hug, squeezing him, and trying to make him laugh. He usually would end up laughing and I would help him with his question and send him on his way.

I look back now and wonder if there was more I could have done. Could this whole senseless death have been avoided if he had excelled more in school and followed a different path? While searching online I also discovered that he had been in trouble with the law numerous times. When I saw his mug shot I cried again. He looked completely different after maturing into a young man, but when I looked at his eyes, it was him. It was that same sweet face looking up at me asking for help.

I was upset with the comments people made on the newspaper story online. Things like, “Good, two more thugs off the street.” Did they not realize that this “thug” was someone’s child?  That this man was once a ten year old boy who only wanted to be accepted and loved? That’s what got me thinking … was there ever a way out for him? Did he ever have a chance? He lived in a rough neighborhood and led a much different life from the one I led. A way of life that I will never understand and probably never know.

From what I do know, having a gun, committing robbery and selling drugs just seem to be a way of life. Another student of mine explained that in this way of life and in that neighborhood, you usually didn’t have much of a choice but to join your peers, no matter if you agreed with them or not. He explained that when he got a job, he was constantly harassed by others for taking the “clean” route. They tormented him about working and joked how much easier it would be to just sell drugs or hold up a convenience store. Many gangs in these areas somehow get a hold on others and force them to steal, rob, and of course much worse. Again, it is a world that I cannot understand and therefore am unable to judge.

It all just seemed so senseless to me. A young man dying because he argued about a card game. Another man would spend the rest of his life in prison after a terrible, terrible decision.

I don’t know if I have much of a purpose with writing about this in today’s post except maybe to open someone’s eyes to the hardships of those around us. It is so easy to get caught up in our own lives and live in our own bubble. We can raise our children to make good decisions and to take the “clean” path. But what about those we don’t know as well? What about the ones who may not have a role model to show them this lifestyle? They could use our help, too. When you have the opportunity to make an impact on someone and show them how a life can be lived without violence, grasp that opportunity and don’t let it go. It may not make any difference in the long run, but I am willing to take the chance that it just might.