The times we had
oh, when the wind would blow with rain and snow
were not all bad
we put our feet just where they had, had to go
never to go
“Postcards From Italy,” Beirut
The view from our castle tower is stunning, the lights of Saturday-night Nürnberg spread out below us in sequined splendor. We’re sitting, five of us–two teachers and three students–on a double bed in a hostel room, late on the last night of this year’s High School Retreat. Our school goes every year, uprooting all 270 students and 50 of the staff, and relocating a bus-ride away for a weekend of reflection, reconnection and recreation. The last three years, we’ve gone to Lenk, Switzerland, bringing our laughter to the high-altitude clean silence of the Swiss Alps. This year, the buses brought us to Nürnberg, in northeastern Bavaria, a red-roofed city with a colored recent past.
The other teacher is my former roommate, Emily, who over the last four years has transformed from anonymous name on an email, Personnel’s pick for my flatmate, to a dear friend, recent bridesmaid in my wedding, co-sponsor and leader of this small group of now-senior girls. The three students are three of the six girls we’ve been mentoring since they were fourteen. There’s history in this room, growing maturity that we celebrate, questions that often surprise us but bring to light the depths to which these young women are seeking to know and honor Christ with every aspect of their lives.
“I just think,” one of the girls is saying, “I just think that we’ve had an amazing time, you know?” She gazes out the window, down the hill at the city, looking for a moment like an illustration of a princess in her castle tower. We’d been talking over the places we’ve been together, even just for High School Retreat, which is never anyone’s most dramatic travel story. Our students always get teased by their peers back home, in North America or Korea, when they complain about “having to go to Switzerland” for the weekend.
“I mean, we’ve traveled the world together,” she continues. “To Vienna, Rome, Athens. In the spring London… Who gets to do that? Spend high school traveling with your best friends? It’s amazing,” she repeats. I look up and catch Emily’s eye, realizing it’s true for us, too, that we’ve traveled together often, with and without students, in the last four years. It is amazing, as she says, and I echo her thankfulness.
Four years, and I’m near the end of an important season at Black Forest Academy. In my first months here, not knowing how long I’d stay, I took on class sponsorship for a herd of freshmen I’d never met. Missing the ninth graders I’d taught for years back in Seattle, I also volunteered to mentor a small group of girls just beginning high school. At that point, I wasn’t certain I’d see them graduate, but I was willing to invest some time in their first years here, hoping to help make them positive ones. Honestly, these roles weren’t always the easiest, and there were times when the tenure of class sponsor and small group leader seemed very long indeed. Not the middle distance of a year of teaching, these were marathons of mentorship.
And yet, as this season draws to a close, I miss them already. I’ve been all over with these kids, from the trenches of eastern France to the ruins of ancient Rome to the crumbling facades of Oradea, Romania. After a year of English class, I know their handwriting, their affinity for odd idioms and hackneyed similes. I can recognize most of their voices across an auditorium, in the dark around a campfire, or from the back of a bus or a plane. I know that my small group loves cashews Youtube videos, and writing funny quotes on Post-It notes, that they want both to keep wandering and find out what it means to stand still, and that they understand what a paradox that is. Realizing this, my love for this group of students who’ve been here as long as I, there are moments when the transition ahead feels impossibly melancholy, as I try to imagine what this town and school will look like after dear friends and these students have left it.
When I was younger, the grey winters of Seattle were broken by only a few days of snow each year. When it started snowing, I was gleeful. Almost immediately, however, I was mourning the inevitable melting of the glorious whiteness. I missed much of the joy, anticipating its end.
The antidote to such gloom, I know, is thankfulness, like this young woman who looks out the window, knowing the uncertainty of her future, and declares that these years have been amazing. Challenging, full of growth and difficulty, but amazing all the same. I couldn’t agree with her more, or possibly be more thankful for these last four years at Black Forest Academy and the students that I’ve come to know along the way.