On the very last day of school, we split the day in two. Morning was for finishing assignments at neckbreak speed and begging tender-hearted teachers for just one point more. For handing out goodbye and good luck cards between teachers and students. For laughing and hugging and crying and laughing. And crying.
I sat at my desk and took in every fleeting second of it. Listening like a nervous parent to their talk of summer parties and dangerous fun. Watching enemies make closing comments to one another. Laughing a little at a basket-case teacher by her door, flinging her arms around students she never even had.
I walked down to the daycare approximately one hundred times and played house and read books and tucked in those kids at nap time. I was kissing the crown of their heads, praying intentional prayers for their summer away from structure and nutrition and so much attention.
I cleaned out my desk. Found the birthday cards I had received months ago. Looked over at projects I never quite completed. Discovered that many of the pens I had lost were tangled through the clutter in the drawers and when I put them in a holder, it was packed full. Even though you won’t get it, that was strangely sentimental.
The afternoon was for the party. One of the teachers grilled outside, beneath an awning as the sky drizzled with rain. Several staff made salad, dip, bought reduced fat chips from the Cub down the street. We had a Soda-walk which was a Cake-Walk with soda. We played Pictionary and Basketball and set up a Photo Booth with wild costumes on a rack.
When all was said and done, I sat on the front edge of my desk as students approached and gave their hugged goodbyes. Goodbye. I’ll miss you! Be safe. Be smart! Make time for reading! With each one walking out, it felt like a slow draining of the season. You realize that the ones you had so much access to, so much influence over are now off into the world without a structured balance to keep them tethered to the ground.
And there is something about saying goodbye that is always bittersweet. We let go of certain people and things, possibly positions, and we make space for new ones. We clear out for the next things to float in or, as life normally goes, knock down the door and colonize our life. Summer sets us free to possibility.
But there’s also the reality that you carry these kids with you wherever you go. Somewhere between the drug withdrawals and the baby insomnia, you work your way into their story, their survival becomes linked to your own.
We are saying goodbye and though I may be back next fall, there is always the chance I won’t. There is a chance I won’t even visit. And if you only look at it like that, it’s quite sad.
But that free space. Those random road trips to mysterious places. That freedom in the unknown and that sudden moment weeks after you get there, you find yourself really there, seeing how life imperceptibly organized itself into the next season. That’s the beauty of this life- goodbyes are the hardest and best things we do.
If just the hand of tomorrow reaches out to tug you forward, you have to take it, take off, you have to keep moving.
Goodbyes are hard. Yes.
But life is a journey. You have to keep going.