I don’t know where the world finds you now. I’ve been teaching just long enough that you are now scattered about the Earth, engaging in what I can only hope are memorable and amazing shenanigans although I’ve been around long enough to know that’s wishful thinking.
Life has a funny way of knocking us all around so I won’t idealize.
Still, whether we have become very good friends outside of class or whether we passed briefly by and then headed off on our own, we have a bond that sticks around forever. That’s the promise of a teacher to his student.
I’ve found that we as humans, though, oftentimes leave far too much unsaid in our lives. We forget that the simple act of kindness can turn an entire day, an entire life, around. I don’t expect that to happen here, but it’s not my job to figure out everything.
It’s my job to say thank you and tell you a few stories about you.
Which isn’t to say that many of you expected – or even wanted – this. I am obscenely difficult on my students. Please remember The First Day in my class. My hope is you eventually found your way here, but I’m not idealizing. I know not all of you did.
Regardless, I hope you realize that I am hard on you because I have great expectations about what you can do, which oftentimes exceed what you even realize you are capable of doing. And I only know of one way to get you there.
That means you will fail. Often. I build failure into my classes. Precious few survive without experiencing some brain-busting failure. When that happens, you sometimes lash out. Not all of you. But enough of you. It’s understandable. We do that when we’re frustrated. All of us.
Sometimes it’s justifiable. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s my least favorite part of teaching. I simply loathe contributing to your angst and unease. I wish there was an easier, gentler way. I have not found that yet, but know I continue to search for it.
For all of my grand intentions, though, you remind me more about the beauty and joy and heartbreak and sorrow of life than you will ever know. You have shown me through my failures, through my life, as much about the world as I hope I have showed you.
You remind me to pay attention to every word. There are no throw-aways. No forgotten phrases. We sometimes say things that become memorable in life. You remind me constantly of the power of a word, or an action, or a gesture. You remind me not to take a moment off.
You remind me not only of the responsibility of being your professor, but also of the love we can share with each other. In a world filled with sadness, and badness, and things we can’t stop or change, you remind me that when we gather 32 times a semester, we are forming a connection – whether strong or weak – that binds us for the short time we are on the rock hurtling through the vacuum.
You remind me of this amazing capacity for richness. You are at a time in your life when you feel things, greatly and mightily. In the ways that we use to feel them. And you embrace those emotions, for better or for worse. I’ve found that what comes out of that, though, is an amazing joy and love for life.
You remind me that the end of a class is only the beginning of a story. I love that after my classes are completed and my kids – and you will forever be my kids because that is the silent pact I make with you each semester – scatter, I can still follow your lives through cyberspace. Not all of you, of course. I add as many blogs as I can. And I read them. Daily.
And sometimes I read your words and sit at my desk crying. You remind me that I don’t have the power to take your pain away or stop bad things from happening, but I do have the ability to shut my mouth and listen.
I see in you strength, and hope, and perseverance, and…well, I see you putting one foot in front of the other, just like the rest of us. Through that, I see you finding your footing on Planet Earth even as the world throws shit at you.
I’ll be honest: I am not always sure I am cut out to be a teacher. In many ways, I am a broken human. I traveled a path to this destination that gave me great insight into parts of the world, but left me completely ill-equipped to deal with the more normal structures of our society. (And don’t say, “what’s normal?” because there are accepted norms and unaccepted norms.) You ask me questions sometimes that baffle me in ways that an adult shouldn’t be baffled.
I come home at night and wonder if I am doing you more harm than good.
Yet you remind me of my favorite lecture, or those rare moments when I can feel a difference being made. Whenever I feel like quitting – and I feel like quitting often because this job is emotionally taxing, and as a recovering addict I can tell you that emotionally taxing is no fun – you remind me what life is all about and I find enough strength to take another step forward.
Which, as you will all find out, is the the key to life.
No matter where you are now, no matter where we encountered each other – the University of Texas, Southwestern University, Northern Kentucky University or Ball State University – thank you for reminding me about life, the universe and everything.
It’s a pretty grand ride we’re on. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Happy holidays. May the Force be with you. And live long and prosper.
With great love,