By Mark Hiskes 2-23-2018

The day began a calendar coincidence
of Hallmark and Holy — red hearts
clashing with black crosses — but ended
in more tragic irony than even the faithful
few find stomach to forgive. In Michigan
a first-hour homeroom teacher hands
bright paper hearts to her girls, a silly
high school tradition each Valentine’s Day:
if a boy tricks a girl into speaking to him,
she must give up her heart. Chapel finds
her leading another kind of ritual:
a softly-lit auditorium, an invitation,
and a long line of students beginning
their stark journey into Lent. She
looks each student in the eye, calls
all but a few of them by name, brushes
back the soft hair from each innocent
forehead and leaves an ash-black cross
with her thumb. Into their young souls
she speaks the intimate, ancient words:
“from dust you came and to dust
you shall return.” That night, the dark
news from sunny Florida brings home
scripture’s awful truth. Another ritual,
this one made only in America:
A high school shooting. 17 dead.
Angry white man. Assault rifle.
Broken community. Candle-lit vigils.
Grief. Rage. Hearts. Crosses.
And a teacher, who has given up
her only heart today, falling along
the dusty road to Easter, longing
to hear all of them speak to her again.

Mark Hiskes teaches English at Holland Christian High School in Holland, Mich.

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