Three Little Graves

gravesLast Memorial Day, my family and I were in a cemetery in Utah. I like cemeteries–they tend to be clean and quiet, and one can find clues about scores of great lives hinted at on the markers these thousands of strangers left behind.

On that particular weekend, all the markers that indicated that the deceased was a veteran were decorated with small flags, which made that visit even better.

But I stopped cold at this site and didn’t know what to feel besides sorrow. I had to take this picture.

The poor Krueger couple had three children, all of whom died in infancy. I can’t imagine a heartbreak like that.

And looking around that or any other cemetery, who knows how many more tragedies lie there, silently sleeping after a lifetime of toil and travail?

And those tragedies are part of lives that must have also had amazing triumphs, moments of sublime transcendence, all completely unknown to me, one visitor at random many years later.

Things like this keep me humble and grateful. It’s good to wrestle with the infinite size and scope of human life.

But let’s say a prayer for the lost Kruegers of the world. There is room in our hearts to have sympathy for the dead.



Sick Kids

Something I never would have suspected before becoming a teacher is just how many kids are really sick.  I mean truly, chronically ill.

We all know that tons of kids fake or exaggerate sickness every day so they can stay out of school, but in the majority of classes I’ve ever taught, there has been a student with some physical or emotional condition that kept them out of school so often that it hurt their grades and education.  These are serious conditions that they couldn’t possibly help.

Years ago I had a student who developed an inoperable brain cancer.  The next year I transferred to a new school where I had a student who developed an inoperable brain cancer.  Maybe it was me?  The first girl thrived and graduated.  The other girl traveled and tried various treatments, but we lost track of her.  Her mother fell out of contact with the school and the student ended up being withdrawn for non-attendance.

Some of the sicknesses that I’ve learned more about because I’ve had students who had to miss a lot of school because of them: Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, social anxiety disorder, vertigo, and mono, which is more common than you think.

Apparently, kids can get pneumonia while living in the desert.  I even had a student go to Hawaii and get pneumonia.

I’ve received plenty of long emails from moms who want to introduce their child’s special medical needs (and rightfully so), though one that stands out is from only two years ago when a mother wrote to warn that her daughter might be woozy that day because she had a major relapse in an ongoing sickness, but demanded against her mother’s wishes that she go to school that day because she didn’t want to fall behind.

I’ve had two deaf students and two in wheelchairs, though never one who was legally blind.  I had my first autistic student this last year–he was very shy in person but communicated via email very well.

Students also get hurt a lot.  Cheerleading must be the most dangerous sport in the world–one year I had three girls who each sustained an injury that required surgery, because of falls in cheer.

I’ve known one girl who was lost a leg in a car accident due to a friend’s reckless driving, and one young man whose off-roading triggered a rare lung disorder that killed him.  I’ve had one student commit suicide.  Once school where I worked had three students die in different incidents in one year.

With all the major medical problems that so many students suffer, frankly, it’s a miracle that our society’s educational endeavors manage to limp along at all.

Capital City of a Fallen World

Las Vegas revels in its nickname of “Sin City,” as it’s good for business these days, but that does, shall we say, have its down side. 

In the last week in Las Vegas:

  • An Air Force officer was shot in the back and killed outside his home.  His wife had her boyfriend do it so she could get the insurance money. 
  • Two young women were arrested for beating a 95-year-old woman to death so they could steal her purse and get money to bail a boyfriend out of jail. 
  • A 15-year-old girl was murdered in her home in the middle of the night when a drug-crazed home invader came looking for her father, who owed the attacker a drug debt. 

Here’s the girl’s picture:

Any one of those stories would be enough to seriously depress anyone.  But three in a week? 

While I’m recounting bad news that’s been on my mind, it’s been a bad year for teachers and students here in the valley.  In the last three months or so:

  • A middle school teacher was murdered behind a grocery store by her estranged husband.
  • A high school teacher was beaten to death while walking to work by a group of young people on a crime spree, looking for fun.
  • A high school music teacher was arrested for having sex with a student in a closet at his home. 
  • An elementary school principal was arrested for possession of methamphetamines
  • A high school teacher shot and killed himself on campus. 

I don’t think it’s being too sensitive to let this much tragedy get to you.  Students often seem confused why I seem to enjoy dark humor so much.  Can we say “defense mechanism,” boys and girls?

Merry Christmas, right?

Sad, Sadder, Saddest


A Las Vegas police officer was struck and killed by a suspected drunken driver while responding to a domestic violence call in the southwest valley early this morning.


The officer, 28-year-old James Manor, was trapped in his patrol car for several minutes before emergency responders were able to extricate him and take him to University Medical Center.




The call that police received was that the girl had been beaten by her father who had left, according to police. Twenty minutes later the girl called police back, claiming that he was coming home and that she was bleeding from her arm and had a black eye.


Police dispatchers summoned 28-year-old officer James Manor and another unit.


Manor wouldn’t make it.


Karen said neither she nor her husband were home when their daughter made the calls. She was at the hospital being treated for kidney failure. Her husband had gone to pick her up. When they arrived home, Karen took the phone away from her daughter and explained to dispatchers that the situation wasn’t what she had made it out to be.


Her daughter didn’t have any marks on her face and wasn’t hurt.


Her daughter had trashed the apartment while her parents were gone, however. The mirrors were smashed. Karen’s perfume bottles were in pieces.


Karen didn’t find out until later through news reports that an officer responding to her daughter’s call had died.




“I had no idea who he was, but I heard he was a very good man,” she said. “I’m very sorry for his family and for everything else.”


A few minutes later, Karen’s daughter came bounding up the stairs, a petite blonde with a ponytail in black jeans and a black T-shirt.


Karen stopped her and put a hand on her shoulder.


“I’m going to tell you something,” Karen said. “You know that night, with you and your father? That night that you had called is the night that police officer died because he was coming to your phone call. But we’re going to stop at that.”


Her daughter blinked.


“I’m hungry. Did you eat my doughnut?”