Last Saturday, after posting my weekly blog, I went to Facebook and had my heart broken. I read a post that Nathan, who I taught in 6th grade, had been killed in a car accident. I was at my friend's house and though he has 3 boys, I happened to be alone in the room with the one in 8th grade who loves orange as much as Nate did. More than once I'd told my friend about Nate because he and James had that in common. This color connection triggered such grief that I sobbed and talked about Nate for over an hour.
I explained to Greg, my best friend and Kinsmen Redeemer, that Nate was truly his brother Ben's keeper.
I told how once when Nate's classmates were making fun of the handicapped sister of another classmate, Nate boldly spoke up and told them, "You guys should stop. You never know how many special kids you'll have."
I wept as I recalled him standing close at my desk, with the tongues of his shoes (which looked at least 2 sizes too big on the end of his scrawny legs) hanging out, getting help with his math or language. I don't know how, but in that moment, after 8 years, it was if I could feel his presence by my side.
Nathan was a part of my 9/11 experience. Everyone recalls where they were and what they were doing when they got the news. I was teaching Nathan and the other 21 students in his 6th grade class. When I heard about Nates's death on this fateful anniversary, I knew from now on I'll remember it for two reasons.
I pictured him, along with all of his classmates, standing on a set of bleachers the night of our Star Gazing Party, singing Stephen Curtis Chapman's "I'm Diving In".
I described his sweet smile. How curly his hair got when it grew out. How fair skinned he was during the colder months, and how his beautifully bronzed skin contrasted with his blue eyes in the warmer ones.
I shared how his mom Barb loved me through some of my most difficult times, when my ex-husband was at his most abusive. We were in a small group together at church and she ministered to me and my infant daughter by shopping at yard sales for toys for her (she still has the doll playpen) and watching her in the nursery. When Nate was in my room, she'd come and help on a bi-weekly basis because that's how much she loved her boy. I had experienced Barb's mommy's heart firsthand and was sick myself with what she must be going through.
Eventually, I prayed and cried myself to sleep.
All week, as I read the Facebook prayer requests for the family, and posts like 'R.I.P Nate', 'the world will never be the same' and 'still hurting, still praying', thoughts of him flooded my heart. I'd tear up and make everyone else cry whenever I told someone that I'd lost a former student.
As much as Nathan's death has affected me, I believe it has affected his friends, especially his Fellowship Christian School ones, much more. My sixth grade classes, Nathan's included, always read Bridge to Terabithia, which has now been made into a film. I feel like the teacher, Mrs. Meyers, when she tells the best friend of the girl who dies, "As hard as it is for me, I can't imagine how hard it must be for you."
Nathan's kindness impacted the lives of two of his Fellowship friends so profoundly that one dedicated a song he'd written when his mom died to Nate, and another was inspired to write a song in his remembrance about trusting God when we can't see the light in what He does. Wow.
Yesterday, as we viewed pictures of Nate as a baby, his sweetness and gentleness shone through even then. Please forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, I truly don't mean it that way, but I wonder if Nate's mom felt what I did as I held my infant son who had the same gentle spirit: I think I have a tiny inkling of how Mary may have felt holding baby Jesus. I also have to wonder: Barb, did you know how truly special your baby boy would turn out to be?
Barb, if you read this, I believe much of what made Nate so special came from you. You did SO good Mom.
I hadn't seen Nate since he was about 17, but as I sat through the service yesterday, I got glimpses into his life that confirmed that he'd not only grown into a man of God, but one loved fiercely by Him.
It's been said, "It's better to have loved and to have lost than to never have loved at all." God loved Nate enough to allow him to experience true love in his short life. From what his girlfriend shared, they had a love most only dream of.
All of Nate's wishes came true. With amazing class, courage and composure, Barb read a wish list that Nate wrote at age 9. The first thing he wished was to be in the NBA. I understood how all of his other wishes were realized except for that one. It made me sad until I was awakened from a nap following the funeral with this thought, He was always in the NBA. Those are his initials, monogram style - NBA!
Nate wanted to make lots of friends and God blessed him with them. Four hundred cards with a breathtakingly beautiful picture of him were handed out to those who attended the visitation and funeral. My dear friend Terry, his fourth grade teacher, made sure I got one of the last four. I'm so thankful to have it propped here now as I write my tribute to him.
I learned this about Nate yesterday: He did nothing that meant something to him by half measures. He lived by what the song, "Seize the Day" encourages us to do:
God doesn't do anything by half measures either and everything is by His design. I've never been inside an orange sanctuary before, but I believe it wasn't happenstance that the walls of this one wrapped around Nate's coffin, enveloping him in the color he loved. Nor was it happenstance that a boy from Ohio was on the road in California at the time of his orange sunset.
God wanted Nate to go out in a blaze of orange glory, and He wanted him Home.
As I drove from the funeral to my temporary home, I passed all of the orange construction barrels in my area, and I thought once again, as I have so often this week, that although it has never been a favorite color of mine, it will now serve to remind me that one day we'll see Nate again in our eternal home.
I looked Nate up on Facebook when I got home and regretted that I hadn't requested his FB friendship. It's too late for that now, but I'm comforted by the fact that "friends are friends forever if the Lord's the lord of them." He's not my FB friend, but like other loved ones who've gone before me, he's my friend in high places. One day, we'll live a lifetime, an eternity, as friends.
Nate, it was a privilege being your teacher. It was a privilege to be taught by you.
Nate, to know you is to love you. And I do.
~Truly, Mrs. Fisse