In the middle of a multiplication drill my fifth-grade student said she was “culturally different” from most of her friends. I pointed out that our school is a veritable Finnegans Wake of diversity, that we hear a dozen languages spoken in the halls, that “different” is meaningless here. She said her father “was black,” and I noted the past tense. She said he died last year. He was forty-two and had a heart attack. I asked if he had been sick a long time or was his death sudden. “He drank a lot,” she said. “He had brain damage too. He fell down on the sidewalk.”
Such matter-of-factness. No tears, no hint of grief or shame, and we returned to multiplication. I shared the information with her classroom teacher and he seemed shaken. This was news to him.
Robert Bridges, friend and editor to Hopkins, was born on this day in 1844. As with my student, his father died when Bridges was nine years old. The natural order is for one’s parent to die first, but not so soon, perhaps when we have children. Who’s to say whose grief, parent’s or child’s, is greater? Bridges writes:
“When Death to either shall come,--
I pray it be first to me,--”