Friday, May 2, 2008

Take Flight


“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”
E.M. Forster Howards End (1910)

“Our final experience, like our first, is conjectural. We move between two darknesses.”
E.M. Forster Aspects of the Novel (1927)

I said goodbye to my senior class today. It was an emotional end to a stressful week. We held elections for Student Council, not without considerable controversy. And we were ramping up to AP exams next week. The seniors will now take those exams, plus their finals in other subjects, and then high school is over for them. Many of them have been on our campus, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, for fourteen years.

It was an emotional day, and when the final bell rang there were tears all around, both teachers and students. These young people have been my students for four years in five courses. I taught them, teased them, joked with them, disciplined them, wrote them letters of recommendation, letters of appeal, watched them succeed and fail, fly and fall. I witnessed them do extraordinary things, wrong things, right things. I saw them be determined and incredibly lazy. I watched friendships and love affairs begin, and often end. I listened to their stories, and they listened to mine. Some buried grandparents; at least one buried a parent. During high school, I know they experimented with alcohol and drugs. They explored darkness on the edge of adulthood. They often behaved like the children they once were, and in so many ways, still are.

Among my students, I can count artists, musicians, scientists, scholars, writers, editors, leaders, caregivers, teachers, playground lawyers, athletes, thespians, journalists, visionaries, and yes, sometimes failures, miscreants, delinquents, posers, wannabes, derelicts, sinners and saints. Occasionally, they displayed wisdom uncommon in someone their age. Ignorance, too, burbled forth.

They frustrated me. They challenged me. They made me a better human being, a better teacher. At least once a week, they made me proud.

I fell in love with them, I made friends, I was humbled. Secretly, they made me long for the days when I was young, but I also remembered why I would never want to relive my teenage years again. They reminded me what I have lost to age, what I regret, what I missed. Oh, the lost opportunities, the false steps, the dead ends. I can feel the disappointments, the emptiness, the loneliness, the feeling that the pain in my heart would never end. I remembered what it was like to be at the mercy of adults, to be trapped, to yearn to be free, to chart my own course, to reach out to my destiny.

To be a senior in high school is to work through your last best year of childhood. Tomorrow it is gone; you have grown up, and you are thirty years old with a mortgage and a car payment and a dead-end job that makes you wonder where you derailed your life.

Or, you are forty-four, remembering when you figured out how old you would be in the year 2008, and thinking that time was your friend. “Time is the fire in which we burn,” a poet once wrote, and today, my students and I felt the heat.

They can vote, go to war, get married, obtain credit, and sign away their lives. They can seize the day or let it slide. This is the death—childhood is dead, long live the children! “Oh the places you’ll go,” said Dr. Seuss.

“Good night, Moon.”

“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” But we all know that childhood dies. The lockers stand empty in the deserted hallways of the abandoned school. A breeze blows papers around the school yard. I hear the echoes. I hear the voices. Ghosts of who we once were, a long way off down the long dark hall.

And so, they fly away. Only I remain behind, to begin again with a new group of students, in the quiet time of year, the autumn. My tears today were selfish. I am jealous of my seniors. They are off to find their futures, to slay some dragons, to continue their journeys. My journey keeps me here in this classroom, studying words and stories, finding the poetry in the living, urging a new group—“Find the connections. Only connect. Search for the meaning, the relevance.” My seniors are no longer my students; hopefully, they become my friends, but I do not expect that because I do not want them to look back. They must go forward while time and tide are in their favor.

They explode into flight like birds, ever traveling, ever searching. I send my prayers with them, and I wish them Godspeed on their journeys. They will never travel alone, for my hopes and dreams fly with them.

In the end, it is the truth of poetry: “Time goes, you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays, we go.”

Farewell, men and women of 2008.