Here in Harmony, in the midst of our graduation parties and Mardi Gras dances and silly photos and speech writings, we have had a shock. One of the seventh graders in our pack of middle school puppies has suddenly been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Everyone is reeling. This new pain is nothing like the horror we felt when Steven Lake murdered Amy, Coty, and Monica last June, but communally we have a scar, and it's throbbing now. We are all close to this family in one way or another, and the emergency has suddenly brought home to me what I had already been pondering as I'd been compiling my so-called speech for Monday's eighth-grade graduation: how much I care about the children that my own children have grown up with--these human beings I have known since babyhood without ever being personally responsible for their maintenance yet who have trusted me as a presence, and whom I have trusted in return.
In Harmony the margins of privacy are ambiguous. The fact that everyone knows everyone else's business can be frustrating, even maddening at times, but it also means that we've all had a hand in the lives of these children who aren't our own. We've offered affection, food, a ride home when they're sick; we bark at them when they do something stupid on Facebook. And now one of these children is desperately ill. And we are not her parents. We can do nothing but stand alongside her family and ache for them.
Theodore Roethke's poem "Elegy for Jane" has always moved me, even before I had any children to love, even before I lived in a town where no one's secrets are her own. It is a grief to grieve, but it also a grief to watch others grieve. I'll spend this evening playing music with her dad, and that is about the only useful thing I can do. At least it's a way to speak.