The word passed quickly through school one afternoon last week.
We had lost one of our former students in Afghanistan.
The school health aide stuck her head inside my classroom to ask, " Did I remember .. (we'll call him " J)? I think he had a crush on one of your daughters for a while."
The name was so familiar, but there have been quite literally thousands of kids in 22 years of teaching.
I racked my brain.
Dammit. I needed a picture. I remember faces not names. It's the face that brings back the memory for me.
I pondered what it means to spend an hour a day with a kid for 180 days and then not be able to remember his face a few years later. He had to be a low flyer, under the radar kind of kid.
The jocks, the cheerleaders, the student government go-getters, the really smart ones, the really bad ones, the really funny ones ... they tend to stick easier to my memory circuits.
Who was J ... and what does it say about me if I can't remember his face 5 years after he left the school?
I needed that damn picture and at least for that day, there was none.
The next morning, the yearbook advisor sent me a photocopy of the picture page with J on it.
There he was, just a couple pics from my own daughter ... surrounded by kids I knew by name, yet I could not recall J, until I was able to see his face in the grainy black and white photocopy.
A very quiet kid.
In a high school, mixed in amongst the bad ones, the good ones, the outgoing ones, the athletes, the scholars, the criminals ... there are the quiet ones.
Mostly, they go through the whole high school experience barely rippling the surface. You know they are there at the time, but you may not notice when they leave.
Such was the case with J.
Now he was dead at 23 ... a victim of a Taliban ambush.
Later in the day, an email came around with a photo and a few quotes from J's Facebook site.
The picture showed J, a little older, but not much different from the yearbook photo, with an incredibly cute three year old baby boy hugging his neck.
In the quote, J expressed his decision to not pursue a military career. He said he just wanted to make it home safe to raise his "beautiful baby boy".
That won't be happening now.
And for what ... Afghanistan ? Afghanistan with it's tribal, medieval, culture? It's leaders with multimillion dollar homes in Dubai?
Afghanistan is not a country... it's a region ... a patchwork of peoples locked in tribalism and primitive cultural traditions.
We needed to be there for a while after 9.11.01.
We don't now. Time for the Afghans to succeed or fail on their own.
There's nothing Afghan worth the life of a quiet kid from a small town in Florida.
It still bothers me that I needed a photo to remember the person J was.
It bothers me more to think his three year old son will have no memory of his father when he grows up ... only a picture of a stranger.