Because the shelter in place has been indefinitely extended, I didn’t know what to expect for my 48th birthday. I had hoped to spend time with my immediate family and close friends but over a week of flu symptoms had changed my plans. I didn’t know that my birthday would be a day of sadness.
My former student Donte lost his battle with Covid-19 on my birthday. He was 28 and I can’t help but wonder what he would have done if he had lived to be 48. I met him when he was a freshman. 9th graders are little. I know most teenagers don’t appreciate being perceived as children. They are children; my 18, 19, or 20 year old seniors are kids. Donte was especially little as a 9th grader with signature brightness, innocence, openness and mercy. I remember him crying big tears across for me in my office because he was being teased by peers. Understandably he lashed out with choice words. We likely discussed how hard it was to be insulted and how I understood where he was coming from having endured teasing as almost all of us do. I am confident I praised his strength, intelligence, kindness, and sense of humor. I hope I reminded him about the importance of taking a deep breath and standing up for ourselves in a way that do not hurt us or others. It was the kind of conversation I’ve had with so many young people over the years. I wanted to build him up. I wanted to remind him of his value. I wanted him to leave our conversation knowing he had my support. As the years went on, Donte grew in popularity but he never changed from that loving person he had always been. That says a lot about Donte. High school can bring out the worst in people; adolescence is a challenging time. The need to belong can prompt anyone to be her/his worst self. Thankfully Donte had many mentors. There was not a staff member on that campus that did not love and look out for Donte. He was blessed.
I learned of Donte’s illness on July 1st. On July 4th my good friend alerted me to the fact that Donte had been placed on life support. I made a phone call to Donte. In my voicemail message, I shared how much I had loved him then and still loved him now. I told him I wished him healing and peace. I reiterated how strong he was and how proud I was of him and how I hoped he would recover so that we could reconnect. I’m glad that I was able to tell him how much he impacted my life.
It’s always difficult to lose good people. I often ponder why good people suffer from illnesses. I think of my dear friend Brett and so many ancestors: Don, Charlene, Danny, David, Father Bob, Mama Luz. I think of the people who have caused suffering in many lives and how they don’t even seem to catch a cold. I often pray about this line of thinking. I know it is not merciful, forgiving or loving to feel this way. Anger is a part of grief, a part of humanity. I’m angry we lost Donte. I’m angry that we haven’t done enough to stop this disease from taking away so many beautiful people from us. The anger fades and I am filled with sadness and love.
Donte used to dream of running his own restaurant. It would serve international cuisine and would be called Donte’s Inferno. The front entrance would bear a sign quoting Dante Aligheri, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” We laughed about that many times. I am sure Donte is at the front of the house. Those who enter will be filled with hope, the way Donte was and is.