Friday, April 06, 2007

An ending

Yesterday was my last real day at Dream Uni. I have an exam to go back for in 2 1/2 weeks, and an exam at Satellite Campus, as well. But yesterday was the last day of hanging about my office and the campus, of lunch at the organic, student-run not-for-profit caf, teas at Tim Hortons, crying students. (I've had about ten of those in the last two weeks.)

It was a week of very few boundaries. I'm not much about formality to begin with, as you've probably gathered, but I do usually try to dress the part, and usually project a fairly reserved - though still open to them - demeanor. But allowing myself to let down my guard helped me, I think, to cope with the loss that I am feeling, which is so huge I can barely confront it.

My Tuesday night seminar went out for dinner after the last class. We had a lovely time - almost everyone came. Fifteen of us around one long table. One made a toast to our class. A couple of students cried when they left. A number urged me to join Facebook so they could keep in touch with me that way, at the same time warning me against the time-suck it represents... (If only they knew how much of my time is sucked by blogs...) After everyone else had left, it was just I and the four students I am closest to. I wanted to stay all night in that warm, comfortable room with them. Funny, smart, sensitive them. Instead, one drove me home and I pretended nonchalance and then walked into the house and sobbed.

The next night was my last Theory class. I ended the class with a flurry of handing out graded papers and the exam questions. A strategic move, to distract me and them from the occasion. Then I went out for a drink with a few of them - a couple of the queer kids had asked me to go out dancing after class the week before, and I'd said no. But I asked them if they'd like to go for a drink this time to celebrate the end of the class and help me stave off my sadness.

They talked about the class - how much they'd learned from each other. How much they respect each other. Listening to this conversation, I thought, see, I am right about these folks. They are extraordinary. Recognizing each other's greatness the way they do. Critically reflecting on this experience. Transcending the narcissism that the university can suck you into.

Then yesterday, I spent the afternoon in a kind of Twilight Zone. A student had asked me to meet her for lunch at the student-run cafe - it was its last day of the year. I went and chatted with her. Another student of mine - my very favourite of the lot - was playing music there. I sat for 3 1/2 hours, as students wandered in and out, sitting down for a chat for a few minutes here or there. We had a random coversation about our favourite vegetables. And we talked about our discipline. It was the perfect balance of light and serious. What I love the very best. I had lost a lot of my lightness. My students have reminded me of slightly different ways to be, this year. So I just basked in that.

But now, it's really the end. I have papers to grade and emails to answer, and I'll see one group of them in the harsh light of an exam. But it's not the same. I realize now that it's over to what extent the year was characterized by its own particular temporality - probably at least in part a function of my insane schedule. That's what I notice most right now, as I confront the loss this represents. The way time will feel without it/them. And I guess that's easier - the generality of that sentiment - than imagining what it is like to not see some of these really precious people again.

Of course, I am going to see some of them again. I am seeing one on Sunday night in Home City, because she's written an absolutely stunning essay and I'm nominating it for a national prize, and need to work on small edits with her very soon, before the deadline passes. Another one has asked me to help edit an essay with her - she wants to submit it for a cool scholarship - so we've made a date to do that. And there are at least two others whom I will see because they will become my friends.

But it's not the same. Whew, that's sad.


squadratomagico said...

You are amazingly lucky to have taught, even for a short time, at a place where you learned so much from your students. It's what we all hope for, but few of us attain it. Cherish that even as you move on.

Earnest English said...

Your post caused me to get a little misty! (That must mean it's good writing, no?) And now I'm thinking that I won't miss my students anywhere near as much as you are when I leave. In fact, some of us have already started practicing ignoring each other, pretending as if we're not there. (Students from a couple years ago, not the recent ones, who do stop by and chat.)

The connections you've forged with these students and that you've encouraged them to have with each other will likely be remembered even after you've left for your new adventure -- this will be good for planning the move back when they open up a t-t position in your field. I wonder if there's a way to harness the energy of these relationships to prepare for that.

Meanwhile, be kind to yourself during this period of sadness. I'm thinking of you!

What Now? said...

It is indeed sad. But I'm so glad that you marked this transition in this way, that you had opportunities for grieving and for being really clear about what was good about your experiences with these students.

MaggieMay said...

Oh Hilaire, I know how hard this must be. But what you should remember is that your relationship with those students was so amazing not only because of THEM but because of YOU, and you will bring that gift for deep connection and meaningful learning with you wherever you go.

dbm/gaa said...

You've made me long for some of my wonderful students too! Oh how great it is when the stars align and students blossom into the amazing people they have the potential to be right before our eyes.