saying goodbye

I’d decided I was too tired to cry. Saying goodbye to friends, our wonderful cook, even my homestay family, I didn’t shed a drop. I was sad, yes, I missed them already, yes. But tears? none. I could barely get through the day, so I figured I just didn’t have the energy needed to hold that level of emotion, and that I’d deal with it later.

Saturday morning my students came to school to say goodbye to me. We met in the library and I showed them the full series of The Magic Tree House and The Chronicles of Narnia (I’d read the first books of each of these with my 5th and 7th grade students, respectively). Each one of the 5th graders grabbed a Magic Tree House book out and sat down to flip through it. I sat and talked to them all a bit, explained where I was going and why and how I was getting there (none of them have ever seen an airplane).

We went outside and they played for a while on the asphalt “field,” the bus, and a brightly painted play structure, which Shubham told me was a library like the magic tree house. When they found that the play structure shifted back and forth a little on its supports, Pradyum said “The treehouse started to spin. It spun faster and faster,” quoting from the book we’d read.

I’d told them I had to go at 9:30, and we counted down the time together and tried to drag it out. Finally I took a picture with all of them, and spent a few minutes talking to the wonderful principal there. Then I traded a last goodbye and handshake with each of them, and promised once more that I would write to them, that I’d miss them, and I’d try very hard to come back someday. And then there was nothing left to do but leave.

As I walked through that bright green and blue gate some tears finally forced their way through the numbness and exhaustion, and I stood in the sun and dust for a moment and wept.

I can’t explain how much my students mean to me, how they’ve been my teachers and friends as well. How so many of my days and so much of my thoughts have been about them, time spent on lesson plans or test papers or explaining or questioning or writing, all for them and about them. I can’t tell you what it’s like to say goodbye to people you care about that much knowing you may never meet them again, may never even talk to them again. I guess it’s one of those things that either you understand or you don’t. I think most of you will understand, and also know what I mean when I say that these kids, my first class, have truly changed something in me, and I won’t ever, ever forget them.

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