The Teachable Moment

January 10, 2005

Dedicated to the memory of Robin Bookston


As a teacher, I always look for the teachable moment.
But where is the teachable moment in this?
What lesson can my students gain from this tragedy:
Love will conquer all?
Ask for help and you can receive it?
I will always be ready to hear your call?
Suicide doesn’t solve anything?
Obviously these are lessons that come too late;
These are lessons I never taught and you never learned.

Together we studied the Holocaust, Anne Frank,
Images of Jews in movies and television,
Jewish law.

But did we ever study each other?
Did I ever tell you what special qualities I saw in you?
Your beauty?  Your radiance?  Your inner peace?

I remember in your Senior year in High School how you came to me at dinner one night,
So confident and self-assured,
And presented me with a package –
“Something small,” you said,
“I saw it in a second-hand store and thought of you.”
Imagine my surprise and how deeply you touched me.
A gift that was more than the Mickey Mouse tie I wear today to your funeral.

I remember your sense of social action and social justice.
Working together in a Public School in Dorchester,
Or a housing project in Roxbury,
Painting, sweeping, stirring others with your commitment to Tikkun Olam.

I remember your courage,
Speaking to teenagers about your sexual orientation.
Unafraid to share your struggle in hopes that others wouldn’t have to struggle.

You were a leader,
A role model,
A good person,
A mensch.

My heart, my mind, my body
Scream “Why?”

But there is no answer – no one answers.
No one can answer.

And all I am left with is another teachable moment.

What do I do with it now?
What lesson can I teach?
What lesson were you trying to teach us?

This week I started teaching this year’s students:
Eager, bright, committed, ready to learn.
Last May I said goodbye to some of last year’s students:
Headed off to college and ready to tackle the world.

Am I too late?
Did I miss the opportunity again?
Did I miss the teachable moment?

I hope not…



  1. This comment moved from the old blog site — original date lost.

    What an incredible piece. I searched for his name on Google and found your poem. I loved the imagry and I appreciate the comments about Robin. I knew him at Hebrew School and later, found him again at Brandeis’ Queer Leadership conference. I still think about him and how much I wish that we had had more time to get to know each other again, after both of us had come out, after we had come to peace with our Jewish-ness. I honor your voice and I appreciate it.

  2. This comment moved from the old blog site — original date lost.

    What a lovely poem. I find myself thinking of Robin from time to time and am glad to see he hasn’t been forgotten.
    (Daniel, you were one of our teachers at Temple Israel, right? Hope you’re well…)
    Rachel Moore

  3. This is truly stirring. It resonates so much with how I feel and felt about Robin’s death – what a special person he was; the sheer senselessness of it all. I’ve been wanting to talk about Robin’s suicide and the effect it had on me for so long but haven’t been able to. The few people I’m in touch with from temple, I just can’t see bringing it up with them. And every time I walk into that sanctuary, that place where I sung in the choir, celebrated more bar and bat mitzvahs and joyous holidays than I can count, the images from Robin’s funeral – Dave’s piercing sobs; the coffin getting wheeled down the aisle – come flooding back.
    Robin was my peer; I considered him my friend, and it hurt me to learn he didn’t feel close to anyone. I felt close to him. I still do.
    But back to your point, what is the lesson? This is a question I’ve turned over and over in my mind. At the risk of sounding obtuse and simplistic, all I can say is that don’t take anything for granted. Don’t assume that kids who appear well-adjusted and high functioning aren’t suffering as much as the kid next door who’s acting out and getting in trouble. And let the people you care about know you care about them one way or the other. It might help them feel closer to someone and prevent them from feeling as isolated as we found out all too late that Robin did.

  4. SO many unanswered questions, how sad. It is so hard to truly know our students, to truly connect. We do the best we can, but we are just one small person against so many the kids encounter. A lovely tribute.

  5. Oh what a heartfelt poem about a horrific event.

    I am a tenth grade teacher, and I have had talks with students who flippantly speak of suicide.

    It sounds like your ears and heart are open. I doubt you have or will lose any opportunuty that comes your way.

    With deep sympathy-

  6. Your remembrance and your grappling to find the teaching moment offers hope in even the most tragic of events, gifted to us in your words. In sharing, Robin will never be forgotten, his life lives on anew in those that read this poem.

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