For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3, 1-8
This was the first reading at Jeff’s funeral mass this week. I’d chosen the same verses for my dad’s funeral as well. As do many others, because I think, it reminds us that both peaks and valleys are necessarily a part of our lives. We have joy and we have grief. Times of quiet and times of great noise. Times to hold close and times to let go. A comforting reminder that in the hardest times, things will change–that everything, including this hard moment is impermanent. The verses also send a warning that we can’t stay on the summit forever, that we will must come down to the valley again. And again.
I taught Jeff Gallant in my winter outdoor activities class during the winter of 2009. He was about to graduate with his BPE and head off to the University of New Brunswick to pursue his education degree and play varsity volleyball. I enjoyed his great enthusiasm in my class–he was always the first to pick up a shovel and mound up the snow. Shortly after the course, I received an email from him, asking where he might pick up a copy of my book. I wrote back and learned he was in the hospital. I offered to deliver a copy to him. He had just been diagnosed with cancer and was looking for inspiration for the journey ahead.
I met his mom the day I visited and we all talked of climbing mountains, pushing hard for the summit, the power of competition and how much sports meant to Jeff. Over the past two years we kept in touch, Jeff fought hard–winning many games against the cancer but in the end, the disease took the series and Jeff died a few weeks past his 24th birthday. A gentle, athletic soul struck down well before his could give the world all of his talents and gifts–he would have been an excellent teacher.
After Jeff’s funeral, I had an hour or so before I had to head off to the airport to fly back to St. John’s. I wondered how best to honour Jeff’s spirit with that time and realized that C.C. Loughlin School was just down from the cathedral. I decided to stop in and see if I could spend some time with some of the children I’d met the year before. I was nervous just showing up because such visits are usually organized well in advance but I took a deep breath and presented myself to the office. They welcomed me and took me to Patricia’s classroom. She and her class were unavailable so I asked for the Grade Fours. I walked into a chorus of “TA!” and was instantly surrounded by the group. They were thrilled to see me and I took solace from my grief in their precious energy. We sat in a small circle and talked of explorers and exploring and what they were learning in social studies. When it was time to head to the other Grade Four class, the first group didn’t want to let go so they came along to the next room to keep asking questions.
I had wondered if it were “appropriate” to go visit a school right after the funeral but I knew instantly as soon as I arrived in that first class, that it was. It was a time to laugh and a time to build up, a time to mend and a time to speak. Jeff would have loved the look on one Grade Three’s face when she exclaimed, “I’ve never stood so close to a mountain climber before.” I was teaching in that moment with Jeff firmly planted in my heart. Rest in peace Jeff.
My sincere condolences, TA, for the loss of your friend and student, Jeff. I’m sure he will remain in your heart along with other loved ones who have gone before him. It sounds as though reaching out to the students after his funeral was the perfect thing for you to do.
Thanks for your kind thoughts Shelagh