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Voices from Above

Voices from Above
He’s Dead, He’s Not Dead, He’s Dead – Part One

In my last year of teaching, we had a new principal who loved to make announcements on the public address system. While our old principal limited her interruptions to break times, except for the most urgent of announcements, we were surprised, in the new year, to hear in the middle of class a short throat-clearing cough and

“This is the principal speaking  Recess will be outside today.”
“If anyone needs to order milk, please come to the front office.”

Soon my middle school kids were openly rolling their eyes whenever they heard the PA crackle on.  About halfway through the year, I stopped pretending to admonish them.

The following is a sad story.

One morning I was in my classroom shortly before the school opened and kids came rolling in.  This room was near the main office and the front door of the school, so when it was quiet and the doors were ajar I was privy to most everything that went on.

I heard one of the aides come into the building and rush into the front office.  She was sobbing, nearly hysterical, and the principal and several of the office workers tried to calm her down.   After a few moments, I gathered that her nephew had a health condition that resulted in some kind of episode that morning and he was currently being transported in an ambulance.  Then, the phone rang, she spoke into it briefly, hung up, and revealed that he had died.

The principal consoled her appropriately for a moment or two and then asked, “Can I announce it on the PA?”

Kids had started to enter by then and the school day would start shortly. The aide, flustered and emotional, acquiesced uncertainly.

During morning announcements, the principal announced that the poor nephew had died. He had attended the school several years ago and older students knew him from his time there or from other community activities. She asked for our thoughts and prayers.

Many in my homeroom were understandably upset: young, innocent souls, they were still shocked by even a remote proximity to death, a quality that had faded from me years before.

Still, school must go on.

An hour or two went by when during one class we heard a soft throat clearing from on high.

“This is your principal speaking.” She went on to inform us that the nephew had in fact not passed away. God had performed a miracle. He was at the hospital and very sick and still in need of our thoughts and prayers.

Everyone loves miracles, and even the coldest cynic’s heart must be a little warmed by a child brought back to life for no reason that medicine can supply.

I found out later that he had never actually died, nor had anyone involved in his care ever thought so. The poor aunt was so overcome, she had misunderstood something on the phone and thought he had died in the ambulance.  She communicated the error to the principal, who, I’m sure, at that moment was grateful it was a Catholic school and thus especially welcoming of miracles.

I also later learned that the calm and sensible vice-prinicpal had urged the principal not to make the second announcement, to wait for the end of the day and for more information.  But the allure of the PA is too much for some to resist.

Remember, though, this is a sad story.

During dismissal the principal commanded the PA to do afternoon announcements as usual. This time, amidst the typical information on after-school clubs and yellow take-home folders, we were informed that the poor nephew had now in fact died. The Lord had seen fit to take him and the family especially needed thoughts and prayers.  Etc.

Yes: he died during morning announcements, rose before lunch, and perished finally at afternoon dismissal.

It was real, this time. But the weight of his death wasn’t heavy on my students as it had been in the morning. Instead, some were laughing and rolling their eyes.

In many ways, it was fitting that this disembodied voice taketh away, giveth back, then taketh away again. Being on the PA is a little like being God, which I’m sure explains her affection for it. And while part of me wanted to detention the respect back into the laughers, who can blame them, with the voice of God inspiring their mirth?

Photo: My freshly painted classroom, August 2008.

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