Friday, July 28, 2017

Back to School

Written on the plane on my way to start an MFA program in Creative Writing:

First Day of School

The yellow school bus that picked me up was number 21.  I have that flash of memory from my first
Off to School Again
day of kindergarten in 1966.

Was I nervous?  Was I scared?  What did it feel like to be leaving my mother and baby sister behind?  This was it. There was no pre-school or day care center in those days.  We just got on the bus that would take us to the school building for the next 13 years.  And, yes, it was the same school building for 13 years.

I remember my school room and can still point it out 50 years later.  It was a large room—the largest classroom in the school. There was lots of light, a bathroom of its own, and a small stage area (well, an area one step above the rest of the room).

My teacher’s name was Mrs. Amelia Lynch.  She was a short, older woman with an air of both authority and kindness.  I liked her.

I remember construction paper houses on one wall. Each one had one of our addresses and phone numbers (only four numbers in those days) on it.  It was a major task to remember where we lived.  I suppose that’s done much earlier now in these days when kindergarteners begin the rudiments of algebra and chemistry.

Shapes and colors were also important.  I remember endless sheets of them on which we had to match the same shapes and/or the same colors.  Occasionally, we would be asked to match different shapes and colors.  There seemed something sinister about these that played with difference.

We got grades using stamps with animals on them.  A lion was “excellent.”  “Good” was either a sheep or a dog, I cannot remember which.  Goats were somewhere below that.  I got lots and lots of lions, so many that I really wanted one of the other ones, and I figured out that if I got a few wrong I would get one of them.  The act was so distressing it required a teacher consultation with my parents. I was mildly scolded but I think they were more amused than concerned.  I went back to the lions.

So here I am 51 years later, heading off to school, feeling like its kindergarten all over again.  This time the bus is replaced by an airplane and the mile ride to school by a thousand miles.

I’m hoping Mrs. Lynch will be there—a firm and steady hand that makes me feel safe and like I belong.  I’m longing for direction and even steeled for criticism. Of Course, I am also terrified of rejection.  It’s not that I think I will get anything deliberately wrong—there will be no cool animal stamps to tempt me.  But after all this time, all this life lived, I know I will seek ways to be different.  But I am sure of my address and phone number, and the way home.

I have no idea what my psychological state was in 1966 (does a five-year-old have psychological states?).  A picture exists, and I don’t look anxious or afraid, but then my look is fairly inscrutable.  I certainly do not seem overly impressed by the liminal state of the moment.  That was probably for the best, because if I had been aware the picture might be of my mother dragging me onto that bus.

I am more aware today?  I am, are I not?  I did not fight to keep off the plane or linger at the car unable to let go of my husband.  There is, however, something ominous in the air—or is it abject terror that I have managed to tightly control, at least for now?

This is a liminal moment, a time of significant transition.  It has been coming ever since February 3, 2014 when I choose to go to the hospital rather than to work.  As I tell people of this new step, I hear myself saying, “I will not go back to parish ministry,” statement that both comforts and energizes me, but also leaves me a little uneasy.  Am I denying who I am and the thing I have done very well in spite of my illness?  Or is who I am evolving with the realities of my life, like most human beings?  Is this just a move from one form of mission to another?  Time will tell (at least I am hoping that it will.

What I have right now is my favorite prayer from Thomas Merton:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


1 comment:

Michael Hartney said...

God speed, Michael. Travelling mercies. May Mrs. Lynch be waiting for you at the graduate school door, armed with her Lion stamp.