Sunday, July 19, 2009
A Spirit of Love, Life and Joy
Early this week when I heard the news that Tyler Coffey, one of the kindest students I have ever taught, passed away I was devastated . I was devastated because I knew that the world had lost someone special, someone who meant the world to so many.
In the course of the life of a teacher, hundreds of students darken the doorways of one's classroom. Some students bring great joy and laughter and cause their teachers many headaches, all the while they secretly smile inside. Other students demonstrate sheer brilliance and leave us wondering how they will change the world. Finally there are those students whose mark is left in the moment, not by short lived laughter, or future dreams, but rather by an indomitable spirit of love, life and joy that profoundly transforms all who encounter them.
Six years ago this fall, Tyler first entered my classroom with a nervous smile and a moppy haircut. From the first day he arrived in room 2 to the day he walked across the stage at Sullivan arena, Tyler was a class act. He was one of those rare people in life, who was truly in touch with who they are. He was devoid of any egoism, pretension or self absorption, and instead was the kind of guy that everyone could depend on. He was dependable because he was real. He was a young man who was always honest and who was embodied with a true sense of character and integrity. Tyler was the same person on the day he first arrived and on the day he graduated. He never changed who he was in order to be popular or to bend to the winds of peer pressure. This was precisely what made him one of the most well respected members of his class. Tyler was real, and in that realness was a young man with a deep sense of faith, a genuine concern and love of others, and someone not afraid of a good adventure.
Thinking back this past week on the many wonderful memories I have of Tyler's time in my class, and at Trinity, I share with you one of my first, and one of my last memories of Tyler, both of which are emblazoned forever in my mind.
1. The Family Project- In the fall of 2003 I assigned my class a small project that required them to reflect on families and the role they played in their lives. Six years ago Tyler's project caught my attention because he was from a large family, something that is unfortunately less and less common these days. He proudly posted his family portrait on the front cover. I took notice because most high school freshmen would do almost anything to avoid sharing a family portrait with all the awkwardness it necessarily entails. Tyler however was not at all dissuaded by this notion and instead proudly shared with all, the love of his life, his brother, four sisters and parents. After exploring his project further and after reading his descriptions and reflections on each member of his family, I remember being moved by the depth of love he had for each of them. While many of his classmates complained about the annoyances of their siblings and the rules of their parents, Tyler did no such thing. He was proud of his family and no amount of beginning of the year shyness or freshman awkwardness was going to stop him from sharing. Tyler's thoughts were conveyed in his distinctive penmanship and in a written voice that spoke from a heart filled with love. Over the years I have read hundreds of such projects, but with all sincerity I can say that one would be hard pressed to find one that matched his love.
2. The End of the Year- I remember the exact classroom, where he was sitting and who he was sitting with. It was during the last few days of school and the Senior class was anxious for school to end. They had checked out and did not wish to be bothered by the many procedural annoyances that accompany the close of the year. I had gone into Tyler's classroom to make a few announcements. As I began to speak many in the classroom carried on with their business, writing notes, staring out the window, typical activities for seniors days from the finish line. As I looked to the back of the room, I noticed that the back section was not exactly with me, they were good kids, but their minds were elsewhere. They were not paying attention at all, except for one. Amidst a sea of senoritas, one young man ignored his friends and listened respectfully to every word I shared. My words were mere reminders of what everyone already knew, but none-the-less, Tyler would have no part of being disrespectful, it was just who he was. The story is not much of one, except for the fact that it speaks to the type of guy he was. Someone who was always respectful of others, someone who never lost sight of his inner core, someone we can all learn a lot from.
As I complete this post tonight I wish I could find the right words to convey the beauty and spirit of his life, but I cannot. I consider it a great privilege and honor to have know Tyler Coffey for the past six years. He has had a profound impact on me as his teacher, and his passing is met with great sadness and sorrow. I cannot begin to imagine the loss and pain that accompanies those that knew him as friend, brother and son.
In the end I suppose we are all left with a choice, whether to remember Tyler by the tragedy of his loss, or the amazing gift of his life. At the end of my life I have always hoped that God would look down, smile and say "well done, my good and faithful servant, well done." I know one thing for sure, that is exactly what he said of Tyler Coffey this week.
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