Damn Shame

I attended a funeral service on November 22, fifty years to the day President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, for a 19 year old former student of mine at the high school where I work. He was murdered a couple blocks from the school and from where he lived. His name was Andrew and he struggled mightily as a student, and we struggled equally to accommodate him. But he made it through to graduation and was attending school in his chosen profession at the time of his death. The attending priest made mention of the "evil" that senselessly took Andrew as well as John F. Kennedy. One of my colleagues called it a "damn shame". I'm not sure what to call it. The fact that such a thing exists out there, here in the world we live, is eye-opening. Andrew was walking with a friend on a main boulevard close to his house when a car pulled up and an occupant (there were two in the car) asks Andrew where he was from. It's a question that has no right answer. It's pretty much guaranteed what is coming next if you get asked. And that's what happened. Andrew put up a fight I hear.. which goes along with his character and his struggle. He was not a kid who backed down. He probably told them to fuck off. One them fought Andrew, while the other stabbed him. The police have two in custody, apparent gang members. Since Andrew was african-amersican and the suspects are latino, all the hate-crime talk came out. Hell, it was murder, plain and simple. Whatever positive path Andrew had constructed for himself, and that was no small feat for him, was obliterated that afternoon on Veteran's Day in Los Angeles. I spoke to Andrew's uncle, who looks like him, after the service. He was understandably torn up, but I wanted to tell him how glad I was that Andrew was on a good path, a path he had chosen. The uncle asked me who I was and all I had to say was "ninth grade teacher" and he sort of smiled and acknowledged the difficulties of that time in Andrew's life. I greeted a couple of Andrew's friends, some of whom I had recognized from class. Obvious from their faces they had never been through anything like this. I drove home from the church service, west across the south face of the San Gabriel mountains. It was sunset and spectacular. I couldn't help but feel Andrew had left something positive and hopeful. His death is a "damn shame", but he left behind plenty of people who cared about him, who witnessed his struggle and his determination to achieve and do things his own way. That enormous smile of his, the one we teachers tried to get him to corral in Algebra class, is the only image I see when I think of him now.

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