“OK, everybody–please put your hands in meditation position,” I said, while sitting cross-legged on top of my desk. My students–in class for ESL reading, not meditation–were sitting normally, looking at me like I was crazy. But they soon joined in. And I was glad. Many were teenagers, some were in their 20s and 30s, and the class was fun, but rowdy. Grounding them (and myself) was crucial.
“Ommmm,” I chanted. Most of them did, too. We laughed. Then, we said ‘om’ again, two more times, but with a twist. We held if for a very long time, then finished it off with ‘jed.’ “AaaaammmmmJed!”
What the heck were we doing? Meditating on the name of one of the students. Amjed, a young man from Jordan. And the entire class loved it and laughed hysterically–especially him.
This quirky beginning-of-class ritual lasted for the entire semester. When I had Amjed in advanced reading a year later, we shared the meditation with the class. We meditated on the other students’ names, too, and laughter filled the room once again.
No matter what, though, Amjed’s name worked best because of that first syllable–identical to the universal ‘om’ sound. Whenever I saw him in the hallway, I’d call him ‘Aaaammmjed’ and we’d break out in laughter. The joke never got old…
The first time I met Amjed, I said ‘merhaba‘–hello–in Arabic. He smiled. I then said, ‘keyfook‘–how are you–and his face lit up. When I told him I’d been to Jordan, he was thrilled. We connected right away, having lots to talk about in class and outside of it.
After he completed the ESL program at the college–Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ–we became friends. He visited my office and we friended each other on Facebook and chatted a lot. As friends do, we confided in each other and sometimes asked for advice. At times, when it seemed right, I corrected his English. He also helped me with the little Arabic I know.
Learning About His Death
I recently learned (from another friend/former student, Sadam) that his short life came to a tragic end in mid-August. He’d been picnicking with family and friends at the Delaware River and at some point, went swimming. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it sounds like he got tired and lost control, and the current pulled him away. His body was found several days later by someone fishing.
I was overwhelmed with sadness upon hearing the news and cried for several days. I could barely sleep or teach my classes. I kept picturing his face in his mind, hearing his laughter and his sweet accent, and remembering the way he called me ‘Professor’ in person, but ‘PROF’ on Facebook. I kept thinking about the all of the things we’d talked about, including the future he’d planned for himself, and about our final few messages on Facebook, just a few days before he died.
How Facebook Helped
I wasn’t sure what to do with my feelings. I spoke to Sadam a few times and to other teachers who knew Amjed. This helped to a certain extent. I then turned to my second Facebook account, one I set up for students and teachers.
Posting Photos and Sharing Feelings
I posted about Amjed’s passing, sure that some of my former students had been in his classes. And sure enough, they had. Some already knew about his death; several did not (since he died over the summer).
Everybody wanted to see his photo–to remember him–and fortunately, I found one from the day when our class went to Dunkin’ Donuts about 2 years ago. It was a fun experience that made the class (and me) happy. The rule was ‘English Only!’ Some broke it, but most followed it.
So, using my Facebook wall, we got our feelings out about what had happened and consoled each other. I know it’s not the same as seeing people and surviving family members in person or attending a funeral, but it’s better than nothing. It helped me and some others. (Also, I heard that his parents returned to Jordan, so reaching out to them was not possible.)
Re-Reading Messages/Reliving the Friendship
But just talking about Amjed wasn’t quite enough. I needed to go back in time–to relieve our friendship. I went in to my messages on Facebook, where there is now just a ghosted image of Amjed and the words ‘Facebook User,’ and re-read all 1537 of of our messages. It was painful, but worth it. I cried hard almost the entire time, but I also laughed about some of what we talked about.
Message #1 was in Arabic script.
We both laughed. Yes, we used the silly LOL. I then tried to read that word in Arabic by separating the letters. I made a mistake, then caught on. He helped.
It was ‘merhaba.’ Just like we’d said when we first met. ‘Hi.’
In very little time, via these chats, we became friends. We talked about life, school, relationships, family, religion, homework, etc. Although he’d been my student, I think he became a teacher to me in certain ways. I learned a lot from him.
Feeling a Sense of Appreciation
Looking back at those messages, I now feel a sense of appreciation to him now. Here are some of the sweet things he did.
–He helped me get gas when it was being rationed after Hurricane Sandy
–He always offered to get me things from Jordan–my favorite spice blend, za’atar, for example
–He taught me about phonetic Arabic and how the numbers 3 and 7 represent certain sounds
He was also like a protective little brother or nephew, looking out for my best interest. I did my best to do the same for him. He liked to call me PROF (yes, he used all caps). I once told him he could call me Lisa since he was finished with ESL.
He said no, following it with: “No problem PROF, you are my friend before you are my PROF.‘
He also taught me how to say, “You’re my friend” in Arabic. Enta sabhe (masculine form). I’m glad I was able to say this to him.
The Poem: Don’t Stand at My Grave and Weep
A week after I learned about Amjed’s death, I told my downstairs neighbor about how sad I felt. A few hours later, she gave me a newspaper clipping that had been on her fridge–of a poem that once appeared in the ‘Dear Abby’ newspaper advice column. Mary Elizabeth Frye, the poet, was a housewife and florist. She wrote the poem on a brown paper shopping bag in 1932.
As soon as I read it, I felt better. It resonated with me and provided some comfort. It’s a rather well-known poem, so chances are you’ve seen it. If not, here it is:
Don’t Stand at My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
–Mary Elizabeth Frye
Saying Goodbye…Ma al salama…and Om
Amjed and I said hello–merhaba–many times. But we never got to say goodbye–ma al salama.
I’m sad that he’s gone. He was too young and his death was senseless. He had a long life ahead of him.
I hope that his parents read this and know that he was a terrific student who always helped others. He was respectful to his classmates and teachers, too. I was so happy to have him in class–twice. I considered myself lucky! Also, he had many friends who adored him. His parents should be proud of him; they obviously did a great job raising him.
I almost want to say goodbye to Amjed, but at the same time, I feel that it’s best to keep his memory alive. Maybe, as the poem suggests, he’s still here somehow. Perhaps I will see or feel his presence in other ways–maybe in nature and maybe in other students’ smiles.
And I will, if/when it feels right, continue to meditate on Amjed’s name with my new students–and tell his story–and meditate on their names, too. I have no doubt they will smile. And maybe he will, too, wherever he is.
Ommm….Ammmjjjjeeed….Ommm…. You’ll always be in my–and others’–thoughts. May you rest in peace. Salaam.
How you ever lost someone you cared about (a student, friend or family member), who was young, in an unexpected/senseless death? If so, how did you cope and what advice do you have to anyone who suffered a recent loss? Did technology play a role in it? If not, what did you find helped the most?