In nine months I’ll retire from the work I’ve done for the past 25 years. Lately I’ve been wondering, how does one walk away from so many years of the thing that nourished you, that fed your brain and your creativity and your heart?
I look at the kids running around the middle school campus and I know they will move on to high school and their faces will fade from my memory, as mine will fade from theirs. And even though this is true, at this time, in this moment, I matter to them and they matter to me. We pass in the halls and say “Hey!” and we feel noticed. We feel that we matter to someone.
I know that I – any one of us, really – am replaceable, and that other teachers will fill the hearts of the kids to come, as well as the hearts of those that leave and go to high school. That autistic boy who everyone thinks never utters a word? He spends his lunch hours in my room talking and telling me all about his life and his family and his dreams, such as they are. He brings videos of his mom and his dog and his bedroom. I matter to him, and he to me. But whether I am there next year or not, he will move on to high school, and he will find someone else to fill that role of listener.
We fill a short space in time for these kids, at a period of their lives that is sacred. The passage from childhood to adolescence is so fraught with pain and excitement, uncertainty and jubilation. At one moment they are running around like little kids, and in the next they are asking big questions about what will happen next. How they will get to where they want to go? And in all the chaos and noise, I feel needed. We are in this thing together, for better or worse.
And as I look at them and listen to them, and push them forward to their futures I wonder who or what will fill the void in me when I go? It feels like I must begin to let go, one thing at a time, so that there aren’t so many things to drop in June. if I lighten my load a stone at a time will it hurt less in the end? Will I be able to drop my empty sack in June and walk away into the next phase of my life?
How does one let go and stay completely immersed at the same time? How will I know what to let go of and what to carry forward? Will I just know? Will I not look back regretfully, thinking I shouldn’t have let go of THAT yet? Can I really walk away from all this beauty? As I savor every day of this year, and I say “Well, there went my last September!” or “I’m doing my last round of CELDT testing!” a small place in me mourns a little bit the finality of it all.
The things I can’t or won’t let go of begin and end with my students. I will love and respect and banter with them until we part in June. I will push for their future success in life, making my best effort to arm them with a love of books, an ability and willingness to write and communicate sincerely and with logic, if not eloquence. I will share with them all I have to give, until that last day. And then, somehow, I will walk away as well.