When something major happens in your life, those who are involved in some way will look back on the moment and say the age old adage of “I remember where I was when…”
Today I found myself thinking the same cliché thing. Three years ago today I lost a mentor in my life that I was not yet equipped to handle losing. It was my senior year, I wasn’t yet 18. And yet me and my fellow classmates were learning how to handle knowing that it was only a finite amount of time left in our band directors life. He had brain cancer which later metastasized and formed pancreatic cancer that ended up spreading to much of the rest of his body.
As a senior in the band, my friends and I were the ones who were supposed to be making sure that the rest of the band was dealing with everything okay. We were supposed to be looking forward to performing that years marching show. We were all trying to be positive and hope that maybe this new experimental drug would be the one that works on his cancer. We were supposed to hope for some sort of miracle.
I remember the day before he passed away. It was September 29th. A Saturday. It was the District marching contest, the first official contest of the year. He wasn’t able to be with us that day because he was too weak. He hadn’t been at practice for the majority of the week before that either.
When the other director started his weekly talk with us about what this show meant and what we were trying to do, he told us that our goal for the day was to play in a way that would carry on the wind enough to reach our director where he was. He wanted us to know that our director was there with us in spirit and that when we walked on that field we needed to remember that this show was a way for us to show our director that we are carrying on his legacy while he isn’t there.
I can’t tell you if anything went wrong on that performance. If you asked me what I was thinking when I got off the field that day, I would tell you the only thing I knew for sure. Mr. Clark heard us that day. It didn’t matter how far away he was, our sound carried to him.
Sunday morning, I knew the moment my mom sat on the side of my bed that he was gone. I don’t remember who it was that called my mom to tell her, but I know that when she told me, when the words were out of her mouth, I just cried. I didn’t know what else to do.
At some point, my drama director who I was extremely close to, called me. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I felt like I was ill equipped to deal with everything that comes with death and whatever else comes with that.
My band director played trumpet. When they opened up the band room as a sort of memorial for all of us band kids to come to that afternoon just so we didn’t have to deal with this alone, the first thing we saw was his silver trumpet sitting down in the front of the room. Seeing that was enough to make the driest of eyes cry a little.
I know that that drama director was there for us that day. Basically all of the seniors who were in the drama club were in band as well and she was the rock that we needed. She made us laugh that afternoon. She let us cry. I’m pretty sure we watched the performance from the night before on the big screen. Maybe we didn’t watch anything. Maybe we just sat in silence.
Looking back on that weekend from three years ago, I didn’t know what I would hold on to and what I would forget. I remember feeling the love from a teacher who took time out of her weekend to be there for those of us who were feeling lost. I remember thinking that grief is a strange thing. The freshman who didn’t spend the last three years with this man weren’t effected the same was as some upper classman.
Three years later, I don’t think about that loss so often. Now, I think about how much those four years in band meant to me. I think about the music that quite literally kept us together so many different times over the years. For the rest of my senior year marching, we wore green sleeves on our shoulders as a reminder that our director was still there with us.
You don’t get to choose what things bring you to your knees. You don’t get to decide how long someone has left. You don’t get to know where life is going to take you or what lessons you are going to learn from who.
But Mr. Clark, this one is for you. I’m still just the work in progress you taught back in high school, but I’m working every day to live up to the potential you saw in so many of us. I miss you.