Today the sun rose as it always does, climbed the sky and descended to the west. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were eaten, people traveled there and returned to here. A day like any other day. Except for my wife Karen and I. After 41 years of driving to school together as fellow teachers, this was the last time.
Every year, after the kids are gone, we end school with a few days of meetings and then a final staff farewell luncheon. There we enjoy one last meal and say goodbye to the teachers leaving. Select teachers talk about their departing companion and it’s always a sweet and often tearful moment. This year, the folks leaving had been at school anywhere from five months to eight years, but no matter how short or long, they were acknowledged for what they gave to the ongoing spirit of this marvelous community.
But Karen’s status as the teacher with the record number of years—42—and her role as a major shaper of school culture, it deserved a bit more. So all 50 of us went down to the music room and sat in a circle in the order we arrived at the school. Karen was first, I was second and around it went. We began by speaking out loud her first year— 1974- followed by Karen ringing a gong. A breath and then all intone “1975” and another stroke of the gong. And so it went until 2016. During this time, I played a Bach piece on the piano and invited all—especially Karen— to silently imagine something for each year, in school or out. (Of course, many had to wait a long time to be born!). It was a powerful way to feel the full length and breadth and heft of all those long years.
We followed with an African-American ring play and then people spoke about Karen. The last three were my daughter Talia, myself and then Karen herself. At the end, Karen moved to the center of the circle and all moved one seat to the right to feel the new order of longevity. A final song, hugs around the circle and it was done. Not your typical roast and “here’s your silver watch” deal, to say the least.
Below is the poem I wrote and read, all the things Karen won’t be doing anymore. Much won’t mean anything to the outsider, but you can get a sense of what is lost when one loses a community like this. It’s bitter and sweet at the same time, some you’re quite happy to stop doing, some you know you’re going to miss.
At some point, I’ll need to write another poem for me as the one left behind. But at the end of an intense two weeks of goodbyes and ceremonies, that can wait.
Thanks for all the years, Karen. Let’s see what’s around the corner.
(Before each bullet, insert “no more…”)
· Leaving Lake Michigan for school start-up
· Ordering the green planning book
· Work days
· Staff meetings
· Knitting at staff meetings
· Knitting hats for teacher’s baby showers
· Building and grounds meetings
· Reading What’s Up newsletters
· Filing staff rosters
· Organizing your school notebook
· Learning new kids’ names
· Learning new teachers’ names
· Learning (and remembering) the parents’ names
· Notes to staff asking if anyone has seen the hot glue gun
· Walking under the red flags
· Singing in the teacher tunnel
· Dancing in front of the kids at the first singing time
· Reimbursement Forms
· Ordering Art Supplies
· Loading and unloading the kiln
· Putting up art stools
· Dressing up for Halloween
· Winter Holiday gifts from parents
· Thank you cards to parents for Winter Holiday gifts
· Sets for holiday plays
· Report forms!
· Talking about report forms
· Learning how to do electronic report forms
· Taking art home for report forms
· Planning vacations around winter, spring and summer break
· Corporation potlucks
· CAIS Studies or strategic plans
· CAIS workshops
· Kerio e-mails
· Computer time with Steve Rubin
· Arranging field trips to the museum
· Driving down O Shaunnessy and backed up on Bosworth
· Worrying about Tuesday parking
· Fire drills
· Patty and Jane’s lunches
· Stories for 1st grade lunch
· Singing with kids
· Planning classes for kids
· Teaching classes to kids
And no more Farewell Staff Lunches.
And just on the other side of all the no mores
lies the poem about to be written.
The one of yes, more…
more time to paint,
more time to putter,
more time to ponder,
more time to play with the grandchildren,
time to float on the raft in Lake Michigan,
held up by the memory of a life well-lived and work well done
and new life and new work before you,
All the children who you cradled in the beauty of their wild imagination
now cradling you as you bob contently on the gentle waves,
held by their gratitude.
42 years of lists crossed off and now new ones written in the sand,
traced in the morning air, felt in the promise of each new day.
We who are left behind will toil on and happily carry forward
what you so lovingly crafted,
Will feel your signature hidden on each piece of art hung in the school halls
And now, one “no more” left…
no more “Goodbyes”
now the welcoming arms of “Hello.”