I erased the board more meticulously that morning, after my last class, marking the official end of a 44 year career at San Francisco State. I didn't want to leave, and lingered long after the last student had left, leaning on the lectern and gazing out over the empty classroom. Rows of empty chairs stood before me, but so too were the faces of random students from over the years, most recent, but some from long ago. And instead of the bored, attentive, or otherwise engaged students I was so used to, I suddenly saw familiar human beings with complex lives.
The ones who regularly came late, I had discovered, had transportation issues. The ones who fought to keep their eyes open were exhausted from night jobs, the distracted ones were single parents trying to keep their lives together. Appreciating how the Earth works was not their focus at that moment, and yet it was what I wanted and expected from them.
Happily, I had become aware years ago, that learning was a shared experience and it changed dramatically the nature of our interactions. Once I understood the complexity of their lives outside the classroom, I looked forward to weaving the subject matter into the real world we were all facing.
I have been irrevocably shaped by those experiences. How do I leave all that behind? We need a mechanism for grieving that doesn't only require the loss of a loved one. What about the loss of a loved quality of life? Even beloved memories become painful when relegated to the past.
As I enter this next stage of my life I recognize that I'm experiencing a profound sadness. I know I'm not the first to leave a job I've loved, but I'm compelled to honor this last stage as I anticipate the next. And I'm puzzled as to how to do this as I wonder what lies ahead.