When Your Teaching Days Are Numbered

20171109_123313 (1)Joy wells when I see that so many leaves are carpeting the back yard right now the whole place practically glows. The trees, black and brown outlines against an opaque-blue dawn, stand sentinel over what they’ve just deposited all over the ground.

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Even though, technically, what has been strewn onto the walking path at the back side of the house is dead, it is beautiful. The kind of beauty that chokes the throat and brims the eye. I don’t know why my heart sings when I see it, it just does.

These leaves.
I don’t have the heart to rake them up.
I decide to let them be.

I wade slowly through a magical pond of yellow.

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Earlier in the week, leaves from the red maples at the front of the house were gathered and now sit as three mounded triangles all browned up and dead for real. I’d raked them up days ago, but the next day it had turned bitter cold, and after coming down with a bout of shingles, I didn’t have it in me to deposit them to the mulch pile. I’d spent the better half of the day before hauling pile after pile to the bamboo patch, but I pushed myself too hard so these last three would have to wait. Their days are numbered. It is just a matter of time before I drag them to the outer darkness that is the side of the house where I’ve been dumping leaves for the last twenty years.

Even the golden beauties in the backyard will eventually curl on themselves and brittle up. They will most likely blow away, ending up in the Little Androscoggin River at the end of the road.

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There is always one day in late Autumn when the wind howls hard and long and all the lawn carpets get scraped clean, the debris swooshed into the stream across from the winter berry bush I prune every year for its splash of red.

Everything is numbered. God, Himself, is in the numbering business.

Leaves on trees.
Grains of sand.
Stars in the heavens.
Hairs on my head.
Days of my life.

Apparently, some things are meant to be counted.

The children in my classroom love to announce they know what the biggest number is, the number that is the last number ever.

I’ve heard this refrain for the better part of seventeen years. The biggest number  they come up with is always something like ten million, billion, ka-trillion,gajillion, quadrillion. Right, Mrs. McKellick?

I always smile and say, Remember, there is always ten million, billion, ka-trillion, gajillion, quadrillion… and oneWhen I say this, every single time the child face falls and darkens. Then, suddenly they smile, too, when they realize that counting numbers goes on forever, because forever to a child is a magical thing.

Some things are meant for forever, like souls and love and faith and hope.
The very words of Jesus that speak and are still speaking go on and on into eternity.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Some things are meant to end and will, like suffering…hate…despair.

“and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All these march to a timetable we do not know.

Yet, there are timetables we do know, where flesh and blood live out a daily routine. It is here that we do some of our own counting.

I step into the Art room at school on a Thursday and like every other Thursday before, it’s the same. The scent of hot glue and wax crayon mixing with the odors of paint and wet paper assaults my nostrils. Here the cacophony of children’s voices, sometimes joyful, sometimes irritating, pierces the ear as the stuff of creative abandon gets played out in forty minutes. I love it.

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I have three more Thursdays. Three more Thursdays where I will watch over young humans furrow the brow and squint the eye to bring about their next masterpiece. Three more Thursdays where I get to scrape glue off my hands and dodge permanent marker being wielded by an unaware fourth grader. Three more Thursdays to encourage the maneuvering of scissors around tight spaces and I get three more Thursdays to look one of those humans in the eye as he holds up his creation and I will say with all honesty, “It’s beautiful.”

All my Mondays through Fridays at Elm Street School are numbered.

I know this like I know the leaves in the backyard are numbered, having given up their summer splendor to die for a little while.  My time at school is waning like the last fade of Autumn. So I wade through the hallways slowly when I can, thinking that here too, is it sometimes magical. Some days you can actually see it;  the wonder, the understanding of a concept, a truth, come to life all over a child’s face.

Winter is coming and this chapter is coming to a close. However,  this life being God’s glorious art room,  I know there will be color again.

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The Long, Slow Closing Of A Door

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There are so many doors.

Some swing open with a gusto and close with a bang. Others open with a slow creak and need to be pulled shut. Some doors never actually close. They come up against the door frame and just stop, a shaft of light coming from the in-between place of in and out.

Some doors seem to not want to open, and the jiggling of the handle and the grip of a key that doesn’t want to fit leaves one to wonder why is there a door here in the first place if it’s so hard to get inside?

There are doors with glass in them and doors with busted out glass. There are new doors where the paint lacquer shimmers on their fronts and there are old doors where the paint has peeled back and the wither and weather of old wood is exposed.

Doors invite.
Doors keep out.
Doors expose.
Doors hide away.
Doors include and doors exclude.

There is a narrow door.
And there is a door where the Ancient of Days knocks and asks to come in.

Then, there are doors that cannot be seen. They are a metaphors. Like a door that signifies the beginning of a new opportunity, or the door that closes when it’s time to move on.

The long, slow closing of a door begins for me today. Thirty school days from now a door will shut. Eighteen years at Elm Street School will come to a close.

After almost a year of ruminating, muddling, talking, seeking counsel, and many, many conversations with the Lover of my soul, it has become clear that it’s time for me to walk out the door and whatever happens when one leaves something behind, I’m to embrace it all.

It hit me last Saturday morning while watching my grandson play his last soccer game on the lower field at Elm Street, that it was my last soccer game at Elm Street, too. Despite the mist that surrounded me that day, I was suddenly struck with the clarity, that in the days to come, there will be many “lasts.”

How do tears spring up so suddenly that you have to grip your lawn chair and grit your teeth so hard to keep from crying because you don’t want the parent sitting next to you to think you are a crazy person who cries at soccer games?

When a door closes slowly, you see everything in slow motion. The space gets smaller, more detailed, more specific. The images of what is closing around you gets etched in your brain. You remember.

I’ve got thirty days to remember it all.