This last year of teaching full-time has been remarkable. I never dreamed I would still be learning so much about students, about how to teach and learn, or about myself as I have these past nine months. These months have been a graduate education in teaching, and in living.
And now, this part of a life is over, and I enter a new landscape. For ten days, I’ve been working my way through file cabinets and file folders and books and stacks of papers and notebooks that have come to inhabit my office over the last 24 years. I must pare it all down so I can move into a smaller, less demanding space on campus.
It has not been easy. I couldn’t stop crying as I pored over papers, pictures, precious notes, and silly gifts from students. It’s been like an archeological dig, finding layers and layers of a teaching life that has morphed its way in and out of several incarnations. It’s been so much fun, and it’s been heartbreaking. How to throw away remnants of a life that has unfolded through my collaborations with all things Rollins–students, colleagues, physical spaces, intangible aha moments?
But the move is almost complete now. On this Sunday afternoon, I sit in an empty office surrounded by dirty-white walls. No pictures to mask their bleakness. No books on the shelves, no memos on the desk, no student papers to grade. It’s raining outside, a hard, summer rain we’re accustomed to this time of year, and there’s a sudden chill in this empty space. The overcast sky brings a suitable pallor to the room.
On my desk is an envelope I found buried in a file folder of faculty writing. It contains a copy of the poem “Evening” by Rainer Maria Rilke. And at the bottom corner of the page, a hand-written note from my dearest colleague saying, “Read this several times–then show me a more gorgeous prayer or poem on the planet.”
And so I do. I read and re-read Rilke’s words. The tears come. This is the last act of my formal life at Rollins. And when the rain stops, I’ll walk out of this office for the last time, my hands empty, my heart full.
I find it hard to believe there is not some sort of intelligence moving through our lives, some sort of consciousness that urges us forward on our spiritual journey. Can you really call it coincidence that these words, long forgotten and buried in a file cabinet, would return to me on this day, a prayer to what has been, and to what is to become. How could Phil Deaver have known the perfect words for walking out of this office?
Slowly the evening puts on the garments
held for it by a rim of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands divide from you,
one going heavenward, one that falls:
and leave you, to neither quite belonging,
not quite so dark as the house sunk in silence,
not quite so surely pledging the eternal
as that which grows star each night and climbs—
and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life afraid and huge and ripening,
so that now bound in and now embracing,
grows alternately stone in you and star.
Rainer Maria Rilke