When my father died, a close friend, whose mother and father had died–just two weeks apart, and about eight months before my father’s death—gently counseled me.
“Be prepared for a roller coaster of emotions,” she said. “One minute you think you’re fine, and the next minute you hear or see or smell something—and wham! Out of the blue, you find yourself crying.”
Her words rang true a month later, at a moment when I was standing, joyfully singing—loud and strong, along with the rest of the congregation, My Country ‘Tis of Thee.
(I really love to sing, and find it very therapeutic. Ironically, before I had stood to sing, I was congratulating myself for getting out of the house that night to attend a special Mass. I’m really doing a good job reconciling myself to my father’s death, I thought in anticipation of the start of the Mass.)
Then, the bottom fell out….
“Land where our fathers died…”
Out of nowhere, when I heard myself sing those words, words I had sung countless times without reaction since childhood, I started to cry, unable to finish the song.
And suddenly I felt guilty, too, for having sung those words so emotionlessly all those past years. I wondered how those whose fathers, husbands, and sons had died–especially in sacrificing their lives for our country–felt wherever they sang or heard those words.
Suddenly–and since then–the cost of freedom in the “[l]and where our fathers died” seemed a lot costlier.
Without background music, in anticipation of my retirement, I had a similar unexpected grief moment happen this morning at Mass.
When the teachers began assembling, full of joyful chatter seeing each other after a summer’s respite, excited to prepare for the new school year, I felt the tears begin to form.
And when the pastor gave a special greeting and blessing to “our teachers,” I prayed, “Dear Lord, I don’t belong in this active group any more. But, please, provide for me a teaching platform, still.”
And I thought of my friend’s words of death-related counsel from ten years ago, and I thought back further to when we first met in educational publishing, both former classroom teachers, and how she felt she was still a teacher—even more a teacher, with a classroom that extended from sea to shining sea.
I never shared her sense that I was more a teacher—or even a teacher, still– when preparing learning materials for students throughout America. No. I felt strongly that I was a teacher, only, truly, during everyday face-to-face interaction with the students, not vicariously through the preparation of teaching and learning materials, no matter how useful or widely used in classrooms everywhere.
And now, almost thirty years after I first met her, and once again being out of the classroom, I need to reconcile being a teacher—still or never more.
May all the teachers and students be blessed as the new school year starts. And may all the retired teachers, like me, looking for new ways to teach and to learn, be blessed, too.
Have you been surprised by grief?