Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grains of sand

Sand is funny. Its collective weight reassures, the comforting pressure of something substantial in your hand. Sun-steeped warmth. Familiarity. The weight of importance. But squeeze it tighter and it slips out; the delineations of your fingers--tiny fault lines--ready to swallow an earth. Steady palms cradle sand for a while but it won't stay. It can't. You move, it moves, ephemeral. Your weight shifts, spilling it out in streams. There's a lightness, a sense of finality and inevitability.

Have you had a relationship that you wanted to hold tight in your hands? One that you thought would slip away if the setting or the circumstances of your friendship changed? Change judges all relationships, and you can't ever know what the effect will be. Most don't survive it--or do, only to limp along as an echo of what they used to be when the person was in your daily life. That unknown scares me. I've lost many relationships to change, even some that I desperately wanted to keep. I don't like it, but my life seems to be a close study of unpredictability.

One of the most influential and longest-lasting relationships in my life has been with my mentor, former history teacher, and friend K. I'm fortunate to have known her since I was fifteen (as long as E and my cat--it was a big year) and she's an integral part of my life to this day. I love her dearly.

The time that we will spend teaching at the same high school is what slips away from me now. She only has a few more years until she retires. It's been on my mind since we celebrated the retirement of so many teachers last month. I'm fortunate that I've been able to teach alongside her--at the school I attended myself--for nine years now. I spent three years with her as a student. In all of that time, I've always known she was there if I needed anything: lunch, Motrin, a place where someone understood what was going on in my life. She's one of the constants in my world. A comforting, patient constant.

Her room was my safe place in high school. I spent two additional years aiding in her class after taking it so I could listen in again; her brilliant storytelling spoke to a defining piece of my heart I didn't even recognize at fifteen. She became one of the most caring and trusted influences in my life; she was always there. Soon I was back at the same school teaching my own classes. As a terrified new teacher, I still relied heavily on her dependability. It was a bit like having my mom there, at work.

Several years in to my teaching career, a thought gave me pause: Someday I'll be teaching here, and she won't. It was an elementary thought, but it terrified me. My vision of the school was entirely wrapped up in the idea that she would be there, entirely committed to a picture that included her at the helm of a successful program she's worked hard to build. In much the same way I'd feared I'd lose my connection to her when I left her class, and again when I graduated, I wondered then if she'd still be in my life once she graduated to retirement.

Last night as she and I cracked away at crab shells at a belated birthday celebration, I paused thankfully on a different thought, one that I know I've come to understand over the last decade. My relationship with K isn't about our work or the school. It's just about life. It's about birthdays and Christmas lights, text messages and E changing her vacuum belt. It's about lunches out and Paul Newman movies, rose bushes, Detective Stabler, and chicken tortilla casserole. Knowing that the other would come immediately if something was wrong. Life experiences. She will always be in my life, and I in hers.

So while I'll certainly enjoy teaching with her a few more years, and while I'll certainly shed my share of hysterical tears when she stops being in my daily work routine, I know confidently that my connection with her lies in a better part of life--the real part. Work has become draining, maddening, most of the time a political exercise in insanity. It makes me want to leave and pursue something else, but it makes her weary near the end of her career. I'm defensive about the toll it takes on her because she's given her life to it. She's worked so hard on so much for so long. I'll be glad in a few years when she can lay it down and retire.

Some thoughts take us a while, simplistic as they might be. I don't think that makes them any less important. I have released my grip on the idea of our relationship as being work-related, or school-related. I don't need to hold on to that part of our friendship as I used to think I did. There's no fear about the relationship going away. I can let that sand gently sift. Though circumstances change, it remains right there in front of me.


  1. Wow, that was great to read. It makes me sad when I think about how many times I've moved since high school, and how many friendships are an "echo of what they used to be," since it's hard when you're far away. I am so glad you and Miss Laubacher are still so close (yes, she's still Miss Laubacher to me!) She is an amazing teacher, and wonderful person. Please tell her hi for me next time you see her.

  2. Wow this is really cool! I have to say that Miss Laubacher was one of my favorite teachers that I had at Elk Grove! I remember when you came in to observe her class when I was in it, way back in the day! I hope you shared this with her and she knows what an awesome teacher!