Woman watches boy embracing another grieving boy

He’s never asked me for this sort of thing. Ever since I taught him last year, we talk daily; during lunch, he sits on the windowsill, or behind my desk, and lets me into his life. Today, a Thursday morning in October, when he walks into my classroom, it’s not to vent, exclaim, recount.

Instead, he says, “Ms. Graham, my homeboy’s brother died last night. A bunch of us wanna do something for him. We dunno what.”

I open my mouth to tell him I’m sorry, to ask how he is — but he speaks before I do. “I thought maybe we can make a poster, and I dunno, people sign it. Show him we’re here.”

My smile is sad, specific. Teenagers shouldn’t need to bury one another. Yet when they do, they handle each other with such tender care: They’re the blessing cracking through the unjust burden.

“Lovely, that’s a really good idea. You want some paper?”

“That’d be cool,” he nods. “Thanks. And could you think of what to write?”

“As the main message, you mean?”

“Right. I was thinking it can just go in the middle.”

Carefully, I pull the paper from my closet, grateful for the purpose it will soon serve. “I mean, my first thought is, ‘Thinking of you.’”

Even without him rolling his eyes, I know this isn’t the right answer. “Really, Ms. Graham?”

Laughing, I say, “Okay, let’s try again. Your point is to let him know he’s not alone, right?”

“Yeah. And that he’s got this.” I’m not surprised that he figures it out on his own. “Maybe ‘Keep your head up, bro.’ Something like that.”

“That sounds perfect.”

He asks me to write it, and as I slide a marker over the paper’s center, I imagine the condolences and compassion that will border these words. I wonder when my lovely’s friend, a boy forever changed, will find comfort. If it will take days, weeks, more, before he remembers what it feels to be at peace.

The seed of my lovely’s idea — the instinct he and his friends had to do something, to show him they’re with him — takes root throughout the day. In and out of my classroom, and who knows how many others, my lovely delicately carries the poster, inviting signatures with blue marker, black, green. Friends and teachers write messages, sign their names.

Love you, bro. Stay strong. Peace and blessings. Praying for you, my brother. We here for you.

Sometime in the afternoon, he hands me a marker. “Ms. Graham, you wanna sign it?”

“Are you sure, lovely?” I glance at the poster, the blossoms of love he’d been gathering all day. “I don’t know your friend.”

He tips his head to the side, squints. “Since when do you have to know someone to care?”

Read more: