“What’s it like leaving?” It’s the question of the month, a fair one to ask after eight years in missions, seven at Black Forest Academy. The answer, I mostly reply, is that it’s complicated. Because there are many kinds of leaving, and they all mean different things. Today—with our students graduated as of this morning and our school year officially finished—seems as good a day as any to reflect on the different leavings in this season of goodbyes.
You leave a class. You forget the particular slant of their handwriting or cadence of their questions, forget what it was like to share the inside of one classroom and half a dozen stories for a while. You leave inside jokes and outside games, the easy shorthand of a shared nine-month history.
You don’t leave students. They do leave you, but they’re supposed to, and it’s supposed to be sad. If they stayed forever, or you weren’t sad, then something would be wrong. But you take the stories they told you, the questions they asked. You take a handful of notes that make you smile. You’ll hear from them again, often when you least expect it, and anyway you’ll remember them—some part of each of them—forever.
You leave a building. Hallways that you could walk blindfolded, a classroom you know how to keep cool and clean. You leave a copier with no more mysteries, even how to fix it when it jams. You leave a bell schedule that you just—after almost a year—committed to memory, including a sense of exactly what kind of lesson fits into 55 minutes.
You don’t leave a school, or at least you don’t leave alone. Schools are organic places, and everyone leaves, every year, trading in this school for a new one. Even if you returned in the fall, with most of the students and some of the staff, it would be to a new place. The school was just right, for just right now, each year. God made it that way, and it was very good.
You leave a job. You leave a sense of well-worn competence that got you through the tougher days. You leave a curriculum that—at this point—you mostly created, familiar and time-tested. You also leave classes that you taught for just a little while, ones full of experiments. These were just as fun, if not more so. Someday, you’ll return to the land of new books and students. Remember how much you grow there, in that humble place, and be gracious with yourself.
You don’t leave teaching. Even if you don’t have a contract or a classroom next year, and you don’t know when you will again, teaching gets into everything, like glitter. Whether you’re explaining German recycling practices to anyone who will listen, or writing creative writing prompts for your sister, or showing your toddler how to use her balance bike without getting knees full of gravel, you’ll still be a teacher. You even use your teacher voice with the Google Home, so don’t worry. Your vocation isn’t going anywhere.
You leave neighbors. You leave the easy proximity of last-minute cookouts or trips to the pool, cups of sugar and multilingual greetings in the alley. You leave the bakery staff asking when your baby is due, and acquaintances delighted by how much your daughter has grown. You leave running into half a dozen people you know every time you leave the house.
You don’t leave friends. You know from experience that you’ll see many of these people in person again, on this continent or that one. You’ll run into them at weddings and airports, will scheme visits to their home or host them in yours. Even without visiting, you know that technology is a gift—when used properly—that keeps friends close.
You leave an apartment. You sell toys, appliances, curling iron and rugs. You clean and clean and clean. You pack and weigh and repack. You throw the sheets in the wash and clean the empty fridge one more time. You watch the last sunset from your fourth-floor window, and bid your village farewell.
You don’t leave home. Home says goodbye—the streets you’ve memorized, the boxy houses, the seasons that feel as comfortable as slippers, the greetings you murmur to the familiar faces you’ve seen in the street for almost a decade. But home comes with you to the airport, fills your phone with texts goodbye and then later, hello. Home sits next to you on the plane, reading a book or playing with a stuffed animal or five. Home meets you on the other side of the ocean, the smell of rain or coffee, the sound of wet pavement, looming mountains inviting you up and in, arms and faces and voices. Home says hello.