This post is long overdue; it’s taken me time to write about something I’ve wrestled with for a while. While I’ve been much blessed, these last three years have also included private struggles and challenges.
One fallout of these challenges was, after over a year of contemplation and prayer, my decision to resign from my teaching position. I wanted a different course, but sometimes, no matter how long or hard you seek, no matter how much you pray for a save, for something to change that will right your world again, it doesn’t happen. And so, on an afternoon I’ll forever remember, I stood alone by the window of my classroom and watched students pass between buildings, as I’d done so many times before. I prayed, even came close to throwing up for a minute (just keeping it real here), and then I shut my door, walked downstairs, and gave my resignation.
My purpose in sharing this is two-fold. First, since I’ve talked about my teaching experiences many times on this blog, I wanted to let you know that I’m no longer teaching at present. Furthermore, I know many of you are facing private struggles, too, ones you can’t discuss with many or any, and it’s a mind-numbingly lonely place to be. I suspect, however, that many of us are less alone in this than we realize, and for me, the stories of others, even the bits of them that can be told, have provided more comfort than I would have imagined.
It’s an interesting word, resignation, with its multiple meanings. There’s the act of resignation, what Merriam Webster calls “a formal notification of resigning,” and then there’s the state of being, the “the quality or state of being resigned.” The first one can be completed in moments; the second usually takes longer.
I loved – no, I love those kids, even (and sometimes especially) the ones that ticked me off. I want to hunt them down, even those in college now, and hug them while editing their latest essays. I want to friend them on social media and get weekly reports on what they’re doing, to make sure they are okay. I want to tell them to get enough sleep at night, to eat more veggies, to go to church even when they don’t feel like it, to consider that their parents might be smarter than they seem (no guarantees), to go out with the weird(ish) boy rather than the bad boy, to stay on the beach until after sunset at least once in a while, and to read and write more.
In my Girl Meets West series about our family trip to the Southwest, I wrote about being overwhelmed by a mountain, and about how the mountain was symbolic of fears I was facing. Some of what I’ve just shared was a large part of the mountain I faced. In fact, I really “ended” that series intending to write another post, an epilogue with a take-away. But I couldn’t do it. Not then, anyway. But maybe that’s what this is now.
I’ve pulled out the draft of the old epilogue I never finished. Here it is:
When I envisioned this series, before our trip took place, I thought the “girl” of the story was going to be Baby-Girl. That’s what I saw, in my mind’s eye, as the plane took off, Baby-Girl beside me, staring off into the sunset (literally, as she would say). After all, she was the girl that provided the take-away in our last trip, so it stood to reason.
Except the girl, it turns out, wasn’t Baby-Girl.
The girl, it turns out, is me.
Sorry. I really wasn’t planning on writing about her here.
Here’s truth: When I realized who this story was about, and when the plot began to unfold, I thought long and hard about not writing this series, about giving it up. This trip was not what I’d planned. It was not what I’d paid for when I bought tickets, reserved vehicles, and booked lodgings months earlier. So, I started looking for a way out. By Silverton, I was seeking an excuse not to write. Briefly, for instance, I hoped my camera would fail, even if through operator error. How could I tell this story if there were no pictures, I reasoned.
But the pictures took.
Then, there were the innocuous comments I’d made, in passing, promising two people after they inquired (entirely to be polite, I’m sure!) that I’d write about this trip.
The rub? Over the course of the last few years especially, I’ve come to believe in what some call laying down the fleece, in playing the dealt deck, even when I’d rather do anything but.
I’d rather have done anything but. But I was stuck with, among other things, pictures and informal commitments. Dry fleece lay on wet ground, and the deck had been dealt. So here I am.
As always happens with time, some things have changed. We are overall incredibly, incredibly blessed, and all that is sad right now will someday pass. But some of my fears have since turned out to be founded, and I’ve cried hot, broken tears more times than I want to count. I hoped and prayed, even at the eleventh hour’s close, for a save that, in the end, never came.
In literature, the directional west has certain connotations. In American literature, the regional West has different connotations. The direction, always the world over, is where the sun sets, where the day ends, where things conclude. The region in the United States, however, has traditionally been replete with hope, wide with beginnings. So there’s a bit of a paradox there, a fork in the interpretive road, it seems, when a character in the U.S., as we did, travels west and to the West.
In Thomas Foster’s book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, a book I assigned to my AP students, he talks about the quest story, and how there’s always a stated reason for the quest, but also a real reason for it. So I guess I should have known better than to think our trip, a real-life quest, was ever just about exploring part of our country, especially given the trip’s timing.
This is the sum of what I had, and at the time, I couldn’t seem to move further with it.
Today, there’s a graduation gown sitting back at school somewhere, the one I wore to each year’s graduation. I returned it, along with that stupid master’s hood I could never seem to pin correctly, before I left, before I turned in my books and my keys and my final grades for the very last time.
In the left arm of this gown, in the bottom of the sleeve that comes to a point, are a couple of tissues I forgot to remove, folded into small squares, easily accessible if you know they’re there. I put them in there the night before graduation, not knowing what it would be like to sit through my last ceremony, to say a kind of goodbye to a community I love deeply.
I didn’t cry; it turns out Wordsworth is correct that some thoughts “lie too deep for tears.”
So I’ve headed “west,” like many of you have done or are doing or will be doing soon.
Although, you never know. What looks, from a distance, much like west might turn out to be much more like West.