Today I spent my last day in class before I have my baby, and the experience called up for me the ways in which teaching has shaped my life. Saying goodbye to this, even temporarily as I am, has implications on the way I will come to view my identity. All this time, I have invested myself in the betterment of others--through writing and learning and discussion. I have seen students grow and other stymied, caught up with them years later and marveled at change, at maturity. Now I will come to see this at the other end of the age bracket, in my own child.
I also saw in myself growth and change in ideas, and in the way I share these with others. I have made my classroom a place where not only did we discuss literature and all that usually entails--I made it a place where awareness becomes central to the lesson. I feel enriched by the experience of considering everything from my student’s varying faith perspectives and practices, to discussions on the Middle East as it now appears in literature and culture. Instilling this I hope to create a desire for change and peace, active and alive in our communities and in the world these students enter--a world I am not sure I will know how to explain to my child. With time I want to create a salt of the earth human in my little one as much as I did as an instructor.
So many other ways to say goodbye--some inevitable, some forced. This morning, when I heard from a Catholic mission worker of local Mexican families broken by deportation, I tried to imagine how hard this goodbye could be: one woman, pregnant as I am, lost her husband to deportation, and has no means of support at the moment or capital to join him. I could not imagine losing my husband right now, supporting myself. Eventually I would do it--and in part because I have the support I need in place for me--but I know this woman does not, and the separation for this reason is unconscionable. Even worse, the other wife and children lost husband and father. They’re blessed to have a Sister of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart in their presence sharing in compassion with them in any way she can. I find myself praying for that goodbye to become less painful as the months go on.
Driving home, I saw a man nailing up a for sale sign on a business--perhaps his--and thought of that forced goodbye to business and wherewithal. For some it might be a home, or it might be a relocation for a job. Many experience this goodbye at the moment, trying to make sense of the loss, be it of livelihood or vocation. I’ll be in the same position should my tenure at the job I have loved get cut short--until then I will readily count my blessings, especially when I do have the privilege of choices. Still, that goodbye to the way we bring ourselves into the world and make it alive, better, productive--that’s a hard loss to count as well.
Even in our losses, we define ourselves. We become new--not perfect or ideal, but new. With people of genuine soul we find support, which I hope will be the case for each of these people I encountered today on my journey. For some, goodbyes are welcome: goodbye to debt, to hard times, to grudges, to fears and sorrows. Goodbyes are a necessary thing, indeed. How we encounter them--with both blind faith in grace and dedication to our part in recreating ourselves--makes all the difference to what extent we’ll be made new. Goodbyes forever mark us with an ending that leaves a question mark in the air, to be answered at a later time.
How do we live up to the answers?