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Monday, June 6, 2011

In Between - Not Here, Not There

Learners and staff members here and everywhere hardly need to view the calendar to know that it's close to the end of the school. If that fact has somehow escaped them then the very hot and humid weather predicted for the end of the week will serve them notice of the approach of summer.

I'm sure that most of the learners are excited about the impending conclusion of the school year and the prospects of fun that await them during the upcoming summer vacation. I chose my words on purpose. I don't really believe all of the learners at Heatly are genuinely enthusiastic about ending the year. I suggest that because after thirteen years of school (in the same building), the members of the senior class, most of whom have attended no other school but Heatly, may very well harbor mixed emotions about the end of the year and the exclamation point of their departure - graduation.

Despite what they say, and there's no doubt they are elated to graduate, I imagine that they are also experiencing a growing level of anxiety and uncertainty. It doesn't matter if they "know" what they're going to be doing after graduation. Whether they have a job lined up or have been accepted at college, they are nonetheless leaving behind an environment of security and familiarity. Regardless of their level of satisfaction with the school, they have practiced a routine arranged around bells that sound at regular intervals and staff members who have known them for years. That will all change no matter what they do. They'll be new all over again. They'll have to prove themselves at their new job or with their new classmates. They'll have to adjust to a new environment and different expectations. In many cases they won't simply be leaving school behind but their friends and family members as well.

I observed my son experience this range of emotions in the last few months after he received his acceptance letter from the Peace Corps. He had long hoped to become a Peace Corps volunteer and now he was a few months away from realizing that goal. He became a step closer when he was notified of where he would be posted. As each week passed he edged closer to departure - more excited, and more scared. It was a bit of an uncomfortable blend of feelings. I think he was as reluctant to admit his fear of the unknown and the challenge that beckoned him as the seniors of Heatly and every other high school are to acknowledge their worries and insecurities about crossing a threshold and writing the next chapter in their lives.

Transitions are often a dichotomy, particularly when they are long in arriving. The more time we have to contemplate the changes, the more doubts and fears enter our thoughts. In a Blog post much earlier in the year I shared a list of books that have resonated with me over the years. Among them is a book written by one of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum. The book is entitled, From Beginning to End - The Rituals of Our Lives. Fulghum is a Unitarian minister (I am not Unitarian, just someone who really appreciates great works of writing no matter what their background) who has experienced and presided over many of the rituals that often define our lives - births, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. He gathered up reflections of these experiences and offers thought provoking perspectives. Here's a brief summary from his website:

"From Beginning to End - The Rituals of Our Lives was published as the result of hundreds of requests for Fulghum to share his insights and experiences in celebrating the rituals, habits and routines that bring structure and meaning to our daily lives. Filled with anecdotes, wit and wisdom, this book explores life events and passages, large and small, as sacred - enriching who we are both individually and collectively." Published 1995

I heartily recommend this book for everyone, since we all experience these rituals from one view or another - as a graduating senior wondering what happens next; as an anxious parent worried about the birth of a baby; as a worried parent perplexed and heartbroken about placing an elderly parent in assisted living,... No matter who we are or where we are in life, Fulghum's words are reassuring and wise. It would be a great read over the summer.

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