Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night…
And ere a man hath power to say ‘Behold!’
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I, i)
I am ending the Ingraham ninth grade year with Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, hoping to escape from mournfully damp spring mornings into a lively night in the forest outside of never-ago Athens. As with most of my curriculum decisions since coming to Ingraham, we’re reading this play because of a few fortunate coincidences. If I had my way I’d teach Othello and Twelfth Night every year, but I often don’t. We did encounter the jealous train wreck of Othello in November, but a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (put on by a talented Seattle Shakespeare Co. touring company) changed my spring plans.
I didn’t expect to find much wisdom in this play, which is beautifully written but remarkably silly. Yet here is Lysander, an annoying lover of Romeo-esque levels of obsession, telling his version of Juliet that the best things, including their thwarted love, are as temporary as lightning. So it probably won’t last, he shrugs with shocking stoicism for a Shakespeare character, but in the meantime let’s make it last as long as possible.
Though ridiculously out of place in this play (ten lines later he suggests that they spend the night together in the forest, en route to his spinster aunt’s house, where they can get married), the message is common enough. Nothing lasts forever.
And I agree, but only partly. Because moments are always slipping and fading, falling to pieces like clouds at the end of a storm. I am always keenly aware of this at this time of the year, when the familiar interactions of the classroom have mellowed into something beautiful.
The afternoon is long and calm, and Period Five knows one another well. They have heard each other’s stories, debated and discussed and listened and told. N finally posts a poem on the poetry blog, triumphantly declaring it to the class. D, J, and E win the class-level poetry slam, and we congratulate them, our representatives in the All Ninth Grade Poetry Slam next week. E tells me what he’s learning about the Trojan War in his recreational reading, and we discuss reading Homer’s Illiad this summer. S is excited, again, about magic carpets and Taylor Lautner. The class hums with quiet energy, and I am satisfied.
“Why do you have to leave, Ms. D?” a student asks, and it’s a good question. I tell him about Germany, tell him about travel and being young and feeling like I’m supposed to be somewhere. And then, “But you know I wouldn’t be your teacher next year anyway, right?”
We all want to hang on to something. For him, it’s this class. For me, it’s the weekend I spent with my family, driving with my siblings through greenest valleys, listening to music and feeling like this minute, this song, could last forever and I wouldn’t mind. In every time of deep beauty, there is almost a painful joy in knowing that it won’t ever be this way again.
And yet… There is more to come. I think of Ecclesiastes, the advice to enjoy the blessings that God has given, knowing that they aren’t forever. It isn’t just one minute of life that I’m thankful for. It’s a million minutes, each as different as a fingerprint. Though I’m sure I’ve waited in the same lines a dozen times, taken the same harrowing left turns and mailed the same bills more times than I can count, the best times are never replicated.
This is what excites me, looking ahead. I’m moving in three weeks, leaving behind most of what I know, all the material for the moments I’d like to keep. I can’t imagine what I’ll love next, what it will look like, or even who will be involved. The only guarantee is that I’ll soon enough find myself breathless with gratitude, loving the beauty of God in new faces and a new country. Because Lysander is right–bright things do come to confusion, and quickly–but he spoke too soon. As one bright moment fades away, another is already preparing to burst into firework brilliance.