Dear Gilad,

There are really no words for this, so I will pull together what I can. Years ago your brother Tzachi asked me what the meaning of life is. I answered him 42, as a joke, which his question was. Then I thought about it, and actually wrote him an answer, which seemed to both surprise and please him. Gilad, I only hope he doesn’t ask me the same questions that have been going through my mind, because, like most of us who are now heartbroken, I have no answers.

You are gone, and I don’t know “what happened,” only that you went missing as a soldier and they found you the next day. I don’t need to know, not really. Because what matters is that you are gone. If I found out that a terrorist murdered you, yes, it would add anger to my sadness and pain, but in the end, it would not change the fact that you are gone.

For myself, I can say that though I don’t know much about your life now, you were such a strong presence in my first 8th grade, and over the years when we have passed each other it was almost always more than a “hi”; it was a short “how are you doing?”, a real question with heartfelt answers. For these reasons, I know what the world has lost, and I can’t begin to imagine what your family has lost.

You sat at the front left side of our tiny classroom next to Itay, and eagerly raised your hand and kept me on my toes in our discussions. You worked hard and brought up thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas. You cared so much, that even on short quizzes you went the extra mile and wrote amusing or intriguing sentences with our vocabulary words.

This letter is not sufficient, not nearly enough to mourn a life barely lived. You wanted to be a medic, were so proud to be in the army, smiling every time I saw you. You probably have no idea how you impacted those around you; I know my smile lingered whenever we bumped into each other. Gilad, you were the first to have your hand up, and now you are the first to fulfill one of my darkest fears: losing a student. Did you have to be first in this? Why were you taken from us?

No short answers to these questions, only long sighs and tears. Tomorrow we will say goodbye, but your memory will linger. The world will be darker without your smile, and your friends, family, teachers, and many more you probably didn’t even know you had touched will miss you always.

Your teacher,

Mrs. S

PS This was the letter I gave your brother. Now I wish I had shown it to you.

Dear Tzachi,

You may have been joking around, but I saw the look in your eyes and heard you – that you have gone so far as to ask others around you (like your grandfather), and that you want a real answer. The first thing I will tell you is a scary thought; many “grown-ups” don’t know. It is very easy to go through life living to live, just thinking of the next moment and what you need to do next in order to survive. There are only so many minutes in a day — sometimes it’s hard to step back and look at the big picture. That being said, I stick by what I told you, about love being important, but I will clarify. It seems to me that life is a blessing, and too much of a miracle to be thrown away. The meaning of life *is* individual – each person has to discover for themselves what gives their life meaning. But — I think to really appreciate the miracle you were given, you need to leave the world a better place than when you came in. Don’t just live to live; find your place in the world, your calling and reason for being here, and do something to improve the world. If you look around, you will see that we were given a blank slate, but a beautiful one. The planet is full of beautiful resources — trees, flowers, animals, sunrise and sunset — so many things to lift our hearts. Most of the misery (ok, aside from natural disasters) around us is caused by people. Your impact may be as small as your family and your community or as big as the world. Just know that your every action has an impact, and it is up to you whether it is for positive or negative. The meaning of life is not 42, it is what you make of it.
Good Luck, MS