After 42 years, some 375 months, 1500 weeks, 7000 days and 28,000 classes, tomorrow is the last day of teaching children at The San Francisco School. For my wife Karen, that is. 41 of them side-by-side with me, 20 with our children and some more with our nephews and neighbors and friends.
That’s epic. That’s Shakespearean. And I’m feeling it down to my bones.
There have been many layers of goodbyes and recognition of her immense contribution as the school’s first “official” art teacher. An art show of her work, a speech at the school’s 50th Anniversary Party and a song beautifully sung by an alum, a book for people to sign. Yesterday, we had a special Elementary Singing Time dedicated to her and as the kids came in, they joined in on the song The Water is Wide.
The water is wide, I cannot cross over. But neither have I wings to fly.
Give me a boat, that will carry two. And both shall row, my love and I.
And there I was up front with her at my side playing guitar and the tears were streaming down my face in front of the 100 kids and 25 teachers. I’m used to this and always tell people “Never apologize for tears.” But still, it’s not easy to cry heartily in front of people. And play the guitar and try to sing at the same time. And lead the ceremony.
But when the song was over, I soldiered on and said this to the kids:
Karen has been listening to this song at home and I knew she would enjoy hearing you all sing it. But I was wondering why she chose this moment to listen to it and why she liked it so much. Well, we don’t have to know why, we can just like the things we like and love the things we love and that’s enough. We don’t have to explain it to anyone or even ourselves. But hearing these words, it suddenly meant something very special to me.
42 years is a long ocean to cross. That water is wide indeed. When Karen started out, I’m sure she had no idea how long she would travel on it or any sense that she had to get to another shore. She knew she couldn’t swim that far and had no wings to fly. But a boat would help. And it would be more fun and she could go further with another person in the boat with her.
Well, it turns out that this school was the boat. And I was the love that took the journey with her. Day after day, month after month, year after year, we rowed together, one stroke at a time and suddenly, here we are on the other shore. She is getting out to explore a marvelous new land. And I’m getting back in the boat to row alone, for my other shore has not called me yet.
What a ride it has been! Scary storms, calm seas, circling sharks, playful dolphins. But I know what kept her rowing was the pleasure of traveling with you kids and the kids before you and loving seeing how you think with pictures, clay, cloth. You’ve kept her company with your fresh way of seeing the world and vibrant imaginations.
“Love grows old and waxes cold, and fades away like the morning dew,” says another verse in the song and I think her love of staff meetings and report cards and lunch duty may have waxed a little cold. But not her love of you all and the work you do. I know she’ll miss that. And I know she’ll miss you. So let’s send her off with one more time through the song.
And we did. Tomorrow Karen and I will leave the house, get in the car and drive for the last time to this school that has been our life, our home, our haven, our little piece of heaven.