Wednesday, December 04, 2013

stars moons and hearts

Oh, I've been thinking about it for a long time -- what will it be like? To stand before a roomful of students one last time? Seventy faces (today's class), some very familiar, from multiple previous classes, some just for this semester, a fleeting encounter and puff, gone?

I woke up early and thought about it.

And as I worked on the final draft of the exam (done!) -- I thought about it.

Too, at breakfast.

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And on my drive to Clasen's Bakery to buy multiple dozens of hearts, suns and moons (chocolate covered gingerbread that they only sell for three weeks out of the year -- it's a treat that I associate very much with Poland, where they sell it year-round), I thought about it.

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During office hours, I had a delightful trickle of students asking numerous questions. They lingered, commenting, as always, on the gorgeous view from office onto Bascom Mall. I thought about that as well. And about other singularly wonderful views in my office.

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Cards trickled in from thoughtful students, emails from friends. A gift of chocolate peppermint candy. It was that kind of a day.

My office neighbors on my floor baked a cake and brought it to me. Various sundry others showed up...

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And the emotions were beginning to swell.

Yet, when I taught, the emotions subsided. They always do. When I teach... or rather, when I taught -- it's in the past now! -- my one focus is on the job at hand. Even though I have often thought that the job at hand is hard to define. Am I teaching them material? Or to learn? Or anything at all? Maybe I am teaching them nothing more than to be enthusiastic about life! (Because people will tell you -- if I am anything... if I was anything, it was that I am/was enthusiastic!)

They ate hearts, moons and stars and I ended my lecture with Szymborska poems. I've ended a class with poems before, but today they had meaning beyond the words. Poems. Remember me for the poems! (Which ones did I give them today? Well, one was on Death. Whaaaaat? -- you say. Well, it's a class about "Trusts and Estates" after all. We've mentioned death a lot this semester! But truly, the poem is more about life. Here, judge it for yourself.)

On Death, Without Exaggeration

It can't take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.
In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn't strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won't help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies' skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.

There's no life
that couldn't be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you've come
cannot be undone.

And because life moves us forward, the class hours ended and I tidied up a bit and picked up my pair of good shoes and packed them in my bag to take home. I wont be vacating the office until January 10 (150 exams to grade!), but I wont be needing good shoes there anymore. That act of packing shoes felt final.

Life moves forward to the next hour and the next. Late in the evening I go to help my girl with the Christmas tree.

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We eat Laotian food and listen to Christmas songs and Goldie the cat looks on.

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Yes, as far as I've come cannot be undone...

[I fly out tomorrow. Be patient as I navigate a travel schedule. I'll post, but there may be hiccups.]