And when they ask what I would look forward to most, I know without thinking because it rises out of the place in my heart where I meet them: the students. When I was a college student, I never thought of the short time I was there as being short--four years seemed a long time to wait. I didn't dwell a minute on how I would be missed by my teachers. And the years passed quickly, and we moved on to jobs and families and other cities--and the teachers stayed in their classrooms and offices watching another year roll in with new faces full of wonder and homesickness and excitement--how those faces would change, so that by the time they left four years later, the teachers would love them and cry when they left despite how they wanted us to go because that was what they had been helping us with the whole time--preparing us to leave holding some new tools that would help us believe strong, love strong, lean strong into the work God had made for us outside of our schooling.
In the fiction writing class, we meet individually to talk about their rough drafts while the rest break off into their groups. I hear laughter and silence as they think through each piece. I know they are caring for each other, nurturing each other as writers. I love how they work together. I was up at 5 this morning reading the stories, laughing about military dogs who return again and again to conversations about hot dogs, creeped out by the widow who lives within the grandfather's body, the witnessing pear, the boy on the verge of understanding something about his father...
Our Intermediate Writing class climbs out of the basement through the secret stairwell to the "naked man" statue to read our poems. Naked Man is already in a posture that says, "I am about to convey something beautiful here. But wait. Where are my clothes? Oh, never mind. Would you like to hear a poem?" We sit in the grass in the last beautiful days of the year and hear each other as one after another gets up, the wind blowing through pages, whipping hair, voices rising, the blue sky backdrop framing them as the words frame their hearts. I am so present there with them--those 20 students who agreed to follow me out in the rain to read from the top of the hill what poetry is.
And the two literature classes are lively despite having stayed up all night writing a paper. Perhaps that's the reason. They are done with the paper, and now they are celebrating with me as we discuss symbolism and the accumulation of meaning around object and gestures. And they start a project they are honestly so excited to try. And they do an amazing job despite how difficult it is, maybe because of how difficult it is.
In the evening, I meet with one who will be leaving soon, one I will miss when she leaves, and we talk over graduate school applications and faulty alarm clocks and grace in the small gestures of others--the ones that make all the difference.