A day interrupted when all you are trying to do is just do your job…

Written in May 2013

Have you ever realized that school bus drivers are more than just the operator of the bus?  Well, I can only speak for the two incredible drivers that Justin had for 5 years.  Both Mary Zola and Mr. G.  were priceless commodities that like most teachers cared for their students with pride and as if they were their own children? Think about it- they too spend a lot of time with our kids.  They do more than drive the bus.  Speaking about the two fabulous ones that Justin had. Mary and Mr. G knew how each kid was doing in the morning and afternoon by their demeanor, and they played interference when necessary. They would bring special treats for the students, calm down chaos and also celebrate each and every student’s birthday.


I knew early on that Justin was like the Student Ambassador on his bus. He prided himself by knowing everyone’s name and most phone numbers.  If there was an issue with a late passenger, traffic on the road, or the operation of safety mechanisms etc. on the bus Justin kept the driver aware. Once when they were in traffic and would be late for school, Justin called me and had me lead the bus around various streets to bypass all of the congestion.  Justin always invited the drivers to his theatre performances. They were thrilled of the invitation and they showed up often-bringing drivers from the other routes.


Last Friday on Justin’s birthday, I got an early morning message from his bus driver.  Mr. G. He said “I miss seeing the BMW especially today”.  You see our car was usually the first car at the stop and the bus would pull up behind us.   WITH JUSTIN NOT ON THE BUS ANYMORE, THEIR DAILY ROUTES AND EXPECTATIONS HAVE BEEN INTERRUPTED.


I thank both of these drivers for being the “best teachers” on the bus. No matter what was going on in their life, they ALWAYS said hello and goodbye to each student with a smile.  JOB WELL DONE! Every time I see a yellow bus on the road, I cannot help but think about you and Justin riding in it.


Last Sunday, Darrell and I attended All Saints Church Homecoming. This is the beautiful church where we had Justin’s Celebration of life.  The cover of the program was a world globe with the title “The Blue Green Hills of Earth” Ed Bacon ‘s sermon once again, made me think about Justin and how he lived his life.  To paraphrase Ed said: “


  • it is an ongoing journey to find a way for everyone to belong
  • Even though Jesus had religious conflicts he did not exclude anyone
  • The way love works is that you have to refuse to exclude and include the excluders
  • It can be arduous task to  see that everyone belongs and is included
  • a sense of belonging is finding your place”


Of course, while listening to the wonderful songs sung by the senior and children’s choirs, I tried hard to somehow hear Justin’s voice ring out from the alter.  When they belted out the African American Spiritual, “Amazing Grace”, I could not help but remember that this was the song all of the people in the parking lot at the hospital sang to Justin as they drove him away.


When they sang, “ Let us break bread together” I looked at Darrell and I said: We used to sing this song when I went to St. Emydius in San Francisco. I am the first to say that I cannot sing, but I sure remember this one and I sang every word “ Let us break bread together on our knees, Let us break bread together on our knees, When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.”  That’s what I say every day…


But when I heard the song that the children’s choir was sang  “Amani” The Swahili derivation means ‘harmony, peace ‘I fell out because the male soloist sounded like Justin. The words to the song were “ Peace. We are singing our song. This is our song of peace.” As we left the church, I felt rejuvenated and happy and I knew that Justin was somehow trying to speak to me. The church did their job that day with all of their clear messages of peace and inclusion.


Upon leaving the church grounds we ran into a parent and his 11th grade son who had attended elementary school with Justin. We had not seen them in more than five years or so.  Since it is hard for some to find the words when they do bump into us, they did manage to verbally express their condolences.  Subsequently, I in turn asked the young man about school. Less than two sentences later his Dad said

“  Susan, a few of the parents from our old school were just speaking about you the other day.  Since you know so much about planning for the college process, it would be great for you to give us a seminar on how to prepare our current 11th grade students!”   I guess Justin’s Playbill is being reviewed and studied by many these days.  I must say that what Justin did in his life was from pure passion and not just manufactured options to try and get him into a top school. WITH THIS COMMENT, MY SEEMINGLY GOOD DAY IN CHURCH WAS SLIGHTLY INTERRUPTED!!   I guess the word is out that I have a lot of idle time, ready to take on work????? I can’t make this up!!!



On Tuesday evening within an hour span I was faced with a triple threat, I deleted letters from colleges from my email, and tossed out hard letters and flyers from 6 colleges. What through me over the edge was when I answered the phone and the gentleman on the other end said, “ Hi may I speak to Justin, I am calling from a _____ college.  Before he could continue on, I had to break the sad news.  The man was just trying TO DO HIS JOB and invite perspective students to meet and greet their Admissions teams.  The aftermath of me telling him about the demise of Justin left the recruiter speechless, his thought process INTERRUPTED and then he followed up with shocking condolences and heart filled concern.



Today, I spent a lot of time with one of Justin’s 11TH grade teachers.  She told me that Justin was an integral part of her class and he brought so much cultural insight to their discussions about the Harlem Renaissance that through his passion and insight he taught the students and also her.  She said that Justin was in her class for his last period on that dreadful day.  He was perfectly fine and in good spirits like most days.  Over that weekend she said that she read and read and read about how to deal with this loss. She said there were no books out there on how Teachers can cope with the loss of a student… She knew that come Monday morning she was going to need some help with coping along with her students.


When I got the mail today, I had placed it on a table near where I was talking to his teacher.  On the top of the pile was a letter from Northeastern University.  As I began to ask her about where she went to college she glanced at the mail and said “I got my Masters at Northeastern, and I can see how they would love to get a student like Justin.” We just looked at each other and shook our heads.  She did a great JOB of teaching Justin how to express himself.  She said it was hard to finish out the plan for her curriculum because this void of Justin missing INTERRUPTED the vibe of the whole class.


Lastly, I just had to share this handwritten letter from a camp counselor that Justin had when he was about 7 years old.  It moved me to tears. If nothing else, the picture will make you smile and imagine for a moment that young camper, our Renaissance man, your friend in action from at such an early age just enjoying life and releasing his talented energy.


“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Carr,

I was s sadden to hear of Justin’s passing. I knew him many years ago when I was his counselor at Summerkids Camp. When I saw his photograph on the news, I immediately recognized the bright eyes, and sweet smile of the camper I once knew. He was charming, lovable, funny and oh so talented. I clearly remember a moment when he got up on the little wooden stage and in front of the entire campfire and sang the Jackson 5’s “ I want you back”. He captured the crowd. I shared the news with several friends; also former counselors and everyone remembered him. I’d like to say that we’d remember every camper who shared our summers, but it’s just not the case.  Your son however was one of those campers-the unforgettable ones.  I know you know this already, so the real reason I’m writing is to let you know that there are a few more people out there remembering Justin with you.  He touched our lives in the brief time that we knew him. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and Justin’s friends.”




Thank you for interrupting your day and sending us such a thoughtful message that smile often after reading it.


Who could ever imagine what this loss would have such a ripple affects, not only to our family, Justin’s friends.-but also on the bus drivers, the teachers, and the camp counselors that Justin encountered?  It goes to show you that character counts.  There will always be people saying inappropriate things, but I guess like Rev. Ed Bacon said, the way love works is you have to somehow make good out of evil. Our days and life’s have been interrupted but I know that somehow, maybe not tomorrow,




(Justin sang this for an audition for a summer program at CSSSA when he was 13)


But we will get through it and our new life will continue in honor of Justin.


Oh how I miss you Justin!!!

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