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The Day I Looked Death in the Eye
The first time I met my future fourth grade teacher was when I was in kindergarten. The class that he taught would come in to my class once a week and work with us on various crafts and projects. Mr. L really had a heart for kids. He loved talking to us while we were working on our projects. Everyone absolutely loved him. Plus, we all thought the fact that he looked like Santa was pretty sweet. My brother was lucky enough to have him as a teacher, and three years later, I was fortunate enough to have him too. Sadly, the clearest memory I have of him is the day he died.
It was a Friday, and therefore, game day in gym class. We were playing line soccer, which is a game where there are two teams – one lined up on one end of the gym, and the other lined up on the opposite end – and different people are called out onto the field to try and score a goal. The team I was on was lined up on the side of the gym where the doors were located, and I was standing directly in front of one set of doors. Since there were windows in the doors, I was able to see out into the hall.
Now, one of Mr. L’s favorite things to do was sing. He sang everywhere; in class, during lunch, and especially on the way to pick up my class from gym. On this particular Friday, he seemed to be singing extra loud. I heard him through the doors, so I turned and saw him walking down the hall, coffee cup in hand. I turned back towards the game going on and I got distracted for a minute or two. When I realized Mr. L hadn’t reached the gym yet, I thought it was really odd, so I looked out into the hall. What I saw made my heart sink into my stomach.
Mr. L was lying on his back, coffee spilling out of the cup now lying next to him. I remember feeling unable to speak. It was almost like one of those dreams where you open your mouth to scream, but nothing comes out. I felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do. All I could do was just stare. It felt like time had stopped. I turned back around to see if anyone around me had noticed, but everyone else in the gym was blissfully unaware of the awful thing happening less than 100 feet away from them.
When I turned to see Mr. L again, there were two of our school janitors standing over him. I wanted to yell and scream at them because it looked like they weren’t doing anything to help him, but I restrained myself. It turns out one of them had run to get the principal, because she came into the gym about a minute later to talk to the gym teacher. As the principal whispered to her what was happening out in the hall, I watched my gym teacher’s face turn white as a ghost.
She ran out of the gym while the principal tried to keep us under control and focused on the game taking place in the gym, but by now, everyone had figured out something was going on. I looked out into the hall again to see my gym teacher doing chest compressions and giving mouth-to-mouth to Mr. L. Then, other kids around me started to look into the hall as well. Then, the principal said the one thing she shouldn’t have -- “Kids, don’t look into the hall.” Well, that sent the gym into chaos.
Everyone ran towards the doors to see what was going on. The principal darted over and tried to cover up the doors so we couldn’t see out, which was a fairly easy task, seeing as she was such a large woman. But since there was another set of doors in the gym, we all ran to those. What I saw this time was fairly relieving, considering the circumstances.
The paramedics had arrived. They took over for my gym teacher and began to do CPR. By this time, some other teachers had been called out of their classes to come and help the principal watch my class in the gym. They managed to get us away from the doors, which was a fairly difficult task, and they tried to distract from everything that was happening out in the hall.
By now, a majority of the class had begun to cry. It was pretty crazy in the gym so the teachers decided to start a prayer circle, but it didn’t really work because everybody was so upset. Everyone just ended up sitting and talking to their friends for the next two hours while we were stuck in the gym. When we returned to our classroom, all the kids called their parents to tell them the sad news. Most of the parents ended up coming to school and getting their kids because there was no possible way we could’ve stayed and gotten work done. Later that day, everyone got a phone call telling them that Mr. L had been pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital.
A few days later, the funeral for Mr. L was held in the church that is connected to our school. It was a really nice service. A lot of the teachers and former students of his shared their favorite memories of him. My class sang a song for him, and I don’t think there was one dry eye in the entire room. After the service, we all proceeded to the cemetery to watch the burial.
For the years following Mr. L’s death, every March 4th, our class told stories about him and remembered all the great times we had with him as our teacher. I’m still saddened that my last memory of him was seeing him die, but I feel truly blessed that I was able to know him and have him as my teacher.