Monday, June 15, 2009

Goodbye to AACS

“Though I must go, endure not yet/ A breach, but an expansion, / Like gold to airy thinness beat…” – John Donne
Leaving AACS is a little like dying, I think. I don’t particularly want to go, but something irresistible is drawing me away. Though I must go now, my reasons for doing so have to do with the facets of my calling and with all that AACS has meant to me. And as I go, I have 3 parting wishes for the school.
Before I knew I was a teacher, I wanted to have a family and to write. When I say I wanted to do these things, I mean my heart burned with longing. I could almost feel the unformed beings as Sharon Olds describes in her poem The Unborn… “the glimmer of them” waiting. One at a time, God gave us four children. Being pregnant was a joyful wonder to me. I was humbled and profoundly touched by – I don’t know how else to say it – God’s company, His presence, His real help. When young Karl was born safely after a scary pregnancy, we believed our family was complete. I had to stop being pregnant, and I would never give birth again, never again experience the closeness of God’s merciful hand in that special way.
As my children were growing, the desire to write awakened in me. Just as I had with them, I knew the urgency as if each were “stretching its arms out/ Desperately to me.” I began writing, had some success publishing articles and short fiction. I thought of a novel about a basketball player who is mistakenly enrolled in the school where his father’s enemy is the popular athletic director and coach. I saw all the characters in a flash and knew their names. Through a series of events, I was miraculously given the privilege of teaching at my children’s school. I felt as blessed as Moses’ mother must have. Teaching at AACS has given me great joy, armfuls of friends- many of whom are former students, profound blessings and a few harrowing moments.
Then, dear Reader, I wrote the novel. Called Solomon’s Puzzle, it is set in Annapolis, where I have drawn on my life as a teacher of interesting, endearing students. The teenagers in my novel are neither shallow nor stereotypical -- Zach Efron would not get the part in the movie. The book shows the powerful, redemptive love of individuals in a community that is patterned after AACS. It took me eight years, while teaching full time, to write most of the book. I included as much of the funny stuff that happened in my classroom as I could. I wrote in snatches of time late at night, while snow kept us at home or during summer days too hot to garden. I described my burden at the end of this time as feeling that I’d been pregnant for 8 years!
My students howled with horrified laughter when I told them of my reoccurring nightmare that I’ve assumed was a metaphor for my writing. It is this: I am pregnant but seem to remember that I’ve been pregnant for many years. I go to the doctor expecting him to tell me horrible news – but no! The baby is still alive! He urges me to –and of all things—pay attention to the fact that I’m pregnant “Don’t forget, now” he scolds and urges me to go through the birth! Having given birth to actual children, I found this notion startling – birth could not be avoided, could it? However it is not included in the expression “sure as death and taxes, so maybe it can be avoided. Apparently so in my life as pertains to the birth of fictional works.
The variation on this dream is that the baby is born and I love him. The baby is healthy, beautiful and evidently not very demanding… or hungry. I put him in the bassinet and forget to feed him! As I dream, I fret, How is this possible? Though asleep, I remember that I once took good care of my actual children. The scenario is so unlikely that God illustrates the enormity of His faithfulness by comparing it to a woman’s typical and dauntless dedication to her newborn.
Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely she may forget, Yet I will not forget you. --Isaiah 49:15
Whereas in my dream, time goes by, lots of time, lots and lots of time. Anxiety mounts in my dream like a fog of poison. I fight to get away from whatever is keeping me and I find my poor baby, now about the size of a pencil, and cry, How are you still alive? How could I have forgotten to feed you? What kind of a mother am I? I’m glad my students laughed because I felt rather haunted.
My sabbatical year gave me the concentrated quiet I needed to gather the threads of Solomon’s Puzzle into a striking conclusion. This proved an intense and complicated process – sweating blood, writing, rewriting furiously, staring past people who were talking earnestly to me as I tried to glimpse the colorful and compelling shadows of fiction. But as so often in my home and my classroom, I was humbled by God’s help and inspiration; I love the book’s ending.
I missed teaching and returned for two wonderful years. But now I think I must publish the novel. I’m not sure how to do this. Part of what I’ll be doing now is discovering how to bring the novel to publication. Also, I have more things in my mind and heart that I want to write.
During this time my family has grown nice and big. Counting my lovely daughters-in-law and my wonderful, favorite son-in-law, I have 7 adult children and 3 irresistible grandchildren. I love spending time with my family and feel called to care for them and to enjoy them. I simply can’t resist them and my spare time is given wholeheartedly to them. Wisdom tells me that if I keep trying to teach and write, I’ll teach but I won’t write. Nor will I try to publish. And my novel will lie in a silent pile of virtual pages.
In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the difficulty of leaving as being done “…with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.” Everyone can remember playing outside on a summer evening , unaware that twilight had come because the joy of playing captures the attention so fully that unaware, the eyes adjust to the parting light. But the call comes again. Here children linger, “Five more minutes!” they bargain. They are called again more insistently and one by one they desert the dark street. Now it is my time to go; it seems I’m called away.
… to be continued

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