It’s nearly the end of summer, and I’m making risotto. The setup requires half a dozen steps, but after a while it’s just pouring white wine and broth onto rice, stirring for a while, and thinking while the liquid soaks into the tender monochrome pearls. So I’m thinking, not as distracted as I’d usually be by my excellent ingredients, the crisp apples and smoky bacon waiting to jump into the action. I’m thinking about patience, slowness. And, to my equal embarrassment and amusement, I’m thinking about a computer game, Two Dots, that I played for a while this summer, until I finished the last level this afternoon.
“What do you do all summer?”
Since it’s been ages since I’ve been out in the grown-up world where people work all four seasons, I seldom hear this question delivered with the tones of accusation or scorn that get teachers so riled up that they have to create BuzzFeed lists or Pinterest memes justifying their summer vacations. I read these lists all the time, though, posted by my colleagues, little missives that remind everyone that we, the teachers, spend our summers planning for the year, catching up on professional development, or even getting jobs to supplement our incomes. To which I respond: Yes, but…
…it’s still summer. At least for me, for now, summer looks a lot like it always has.
I tend to divide summers into Nothing and Something. This has little to do with how exciting a summer was–it was a Nothing summer in which I climbed Mt. Rainier, and a Something summer in which I worked as a filing clerk in an insurance agency–but rather how easy it is to describe the summer. The quicker the reply, the more something that summer. The Nothing summers are often long and slow, with brief intervals of intense busyness. By this definition, this was a Nothing summer, in which I vacillated between my empty German village and the fullness of Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Spangdahlem Air Base.
So what did I do? I traveled a bit. When I wasn’t traveling, I did other things. If I were feeling defensive, I could tell about the online class I took, or the orientation program I planned for the new faculty at BFA. I could list the motley titles that accompanied me on approximately 24 hours of train-riding over the last month. I could show Instagram photos of recipes tried. All good things, ingredients to a full summer.
But I also played this computer game. As in, I played the whole game. I have never done this before, and chances are slim that I’ll do it again. I’m not a teenager; I didn’t play for hours a day. I did pick it up between chapters and emails, waiting for pizza dough to rise or the train to arrive. I read some reviews of this game, since I’m the sort who loves reviews, and discovered two distinct camps. There were those who found the game–which is a series of puzzles, divided into levels–“impossible” or its more spiteful counterpart “purely based on luck.” These reviews always garnered a calm response from the other camp: “It’s not impossible. You just have to be patient. Keep trying.”
Teaching can be like that. A series of challenges, some so seemingly insurmountable that we’re tempted to call them impossible, or ascribe success to “pure luck” rather than learned skill. I’ve always been thankful to have mentors and peers who remind me that teaching, like any other skill, requires practice and patience. From both students and teacher, to learn we must risk failing in pursuit of growth, and a space where that kind of risk is safe must be a place of grace, of patience. It’s the grace that God gives to us as we learn, and the grace we’re asked to extend back to ourselves and on to our students.
This isn’t how I always think of patience, the capacity to keep at something for a good while, willing to fail a bit in pursuit of success. But there is a sort of expectancy there, knowing that if I remain present, continuing to “show up” through the challenges of life, God can make something wonderful. Like an essay that makes sense, or a classroom in which learning and community mellow into something beautiful. Like this risotto, done to creamy perfection only if I stick with it, paying attention and stirring the afternoon away.