The Sacred Ordinary
I love the first day of school. I love everything about it. I love the smell and the gleam of newly-waxed classrooms floors; I love the sound of squeaky new shoes and the scratchiness of new sweaters against skin still warm from summer sun. I love pristine notebooks, perfectly sharpened pencils, textbooks with stiff spines. I love bright yellow school buses, brand new lunch boxes, and the good intentions of resolutions for the new year. I love the first day of school.
The end of my Friends School career is now much closer than the beginning, and although I don’t yet know exactly when I will finally call it a day, I worry a little about how my first ‘first day’ will go when I’m no longer expected at school. Some friends have speculated that I will be found wandering around town following school buses. Others have suggested that I make sure that I’m traveling on that first day, perhaps to some remote spot where they have no schools. Some have recommended that I become a crossing guard or a cafeteria lady during my retirement years. I’m not convinced that my withdrawal will be all that traumatic when the time comes, but there’s no doubt that I will miss my spot at the Friends School door on that early September morning. I’ve learned a lot standing there.
My admiration for parents peaks on that first day. As I greet our students that morning, I’m humbled by the trust their parents put in us when they deliver their children to our doors. I watch parents with tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats handing over the most precious person in their world to us. In that prayer-like moment when a parent places the hand of a 5-year old into mine and smiles bravely behind us as we head off to a new classroom, I see again the extraordinary courage that goes into the ordinary work of being a parent. Having children is such a hope-filled thing to do, and at this time in history it seems almost outdated or counter-intuitive. We are a safety-conscious people. We buckle ourselves into all moving vehicles; we wear helmets and protective gear when we exercise; we disinfect our hands after opening doors or touching grocery carts. And yet, we keep having children, something that is not safe and is, in fact, guaranteed to cause serious injury to our hearts. The very point of having those children, after all, is to raise them so successfully that eventually they will leave
us, that eventually they will say goodbye.
Several years ago, when my son was in college, I took him to the airport to board a flight to Prague. Although he hadn’t traveled internationally before, he was going to spend a semester studying in the Czech Republic. I hugged him with a dangerously tight grip and probably for an embarrassingly long time, and then I let him go. As I watched him walk away, unable to turn my back until he’d disappeared from view, I felt a moment of panic. How do parents do this, I wondered, how can we let them go off into the unknown, to places we’ve never seen that are filled with people we don’t know? But, he was already gone and our good-bye had been said. So, I calmed myself, closed my eyes, and handed him over to the universe, hopeful for the kindness of strangers along his way.
So, as I watch the good-byes being said at the doorway to Friends School each fall, I don’t take them for granted or watch with a jaded eye. Instead, I pay close attention to these moments of the sacred ordinary, moments when parents convey a huge message in a small gesture. It’s in that moment of good-bye when a parent wordlessly says, “The world is a good place, full of wonderful things to learn and wonderful people to know. Go off and get to know it.” What remarkable bravery it takes to say that to our children, and what a remarkable gift it is to give them.
In the years ahead, no matter who waits at the Friends School doorway, I know that the first day of school will always be a day full of the sacred ordinary. I trust that our doorway will always open onto a place where all of our light-filled children are treasured for their own unique natures, a place where their luster will be undimmed . . . a small first step into that universe filled with kind and helpful strangers.