There’s a song I can’t listen to right now without getting upset. It’s a beautiful tribute to a teacher, Alice Strain, who died tragically in a car accident last April and this week it reached number one on iTunes. Her students must know, must realise, how incredibly proud of them she would be.
I’ve been retweeting links to it for the past 2 weeks but some powerful force made me shy away from clicking on the link and actually listening to it. It’s not that I didn’t want them to get to number 1, or that I didn’t care, it’s just that my brain and my heart were desperate to shy away from thinking about teachers dying in car crashes.
In 2009, on the 27th December, Sarah Nugent, a teacher, a jewellery-maker, and a wonderful sister and daughter and friend hit a patch of black ice, lost control of her car and died instantly when her car hit a tree. Every year since, instead of heading to the pub on Stephens’ Night, I go to bed early and get up early, and drive to her anniversary mass and face the gaping void her death has left in the lives of her mother and father and sister and brothers and friends.
She was a teacher too, of ICT in Kilcock, and a force to be reckoned with, full of drive and energy and ideas. Her students, her colleagues and her school were an incredible support and comfort to her family, busloads of them making the trip down to her funeral and the entire school preparing a moving memorial service, afterwards presenting to her parents a beautifully engraved wooden plaque and a hand-painted alter cloth. I also remember them producing photos her family had never seen of a recent all-night sleep-over in the gym for charity that Sarah had helped organise. There she was, leaning against the wall of the gym, wrecked but smiling, her legs disappearing into a sleeping bag, her top-half ensconsed in a hoody, which was so not her style – Sarah was always incredibly stylish (well, at least once she got past her teenage years!) and gave the rest of us fashion advice for free.
I miss her and I still struggle to accept, 4 years on, that she is actually gone. Actually gone forever.
So what is my point?
Well watching this song and thinking about Sarah and about a more recent bereavement in our own school and the way the students and music teacher and school choir rallied around instantly, it made me think about how schools are communities not just places where teachers teach and students learn. Schools are so much more than the sum of their parts and can be such a powerful force for good especially in times of darkness and despair.
So I guess if you can spare €1.29, I’d urge you to buy the single on iTunes. Even though I don’t know these students and I didn’t know this teacher, the spirit of what they are doing resonates powerfully with me.
Secondly, if you can offer comfort to someone this Christmas who has lost a loved one, please do.
And finally, please be careful on our roads. Please. I know that doesn’t always make a difference, if weather or another dangerous driver is what causes the crash, but every single one of us that slows down or takes extra care or decides that that journey just isn’t necessary or ignores the beep that tells us we have a text message on our phone could be one more life saved.
Too many die too young.