Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Life, Semester by Semester

The greatest part of my adult life, and nearly all of my childhood, has been lived on an academic calendar.  

First, there was my own schooling.  When I left graduate school the first time, my spouse was in a doctoral program.  By the time he had finished his degree, I was back in graduate school.  I completed my master's just in time for my daughter to enter pre-school.  Then I entered a Ph.D. program, and before I left, sans degree, many too many years later, I had seen three children begin formal schooling.  In the meantime, I had divorced and married yet another Ph.D., who subsequently became a university professor.  I did my own stints teaching college, part- and later full-time.  I did a couple of years as a special ed para in my children's elementary school.  I home-schooled my boys for a year of grade school, and later for a combined several years of high school.  Last week, my husband began his fall semester.  Yesterday, my last teenager began a new school year in his online high school, and my daughter, whose child I care for, returned to teaching high school math and chemistry.  In less than two weeks, even that little boy will enter pre-school.  

So, if it's late August/early September, late December/early January, or May/June, it must be time for my life to change, for new concentrations, schedules and routines.  I imagine that somewhere in this country, there are childless adults who have escaped all this, at least for a time.  And others whose children were raised in less time than it is taking me, who are also freed of back-to-school fever.  But not me.  And not for the foreseeable future.

The downside of this parsing of my years, of course, has been and continues to be the constant rearrangements, adjustments, and disorientation.  But I begin to see that I have had the opportunity, which I haven't always taken or appreciated, to make friends with change.  Heraclitus, the "can't step in the same river twice" guy,  said "Nothing endures but change;"  Proverbs tells us that "Change is the only constant;" Buddha identified change/impermanence (anicca) as one of the "three marks of existence," the other two being suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta); and in what would appear to be the original version of a much-tweaked adage, an old Arabic saying had it that "only three things in life are certain:  birth, death, and change." 

So coming to terms with change is a good thing.  Buddhism, in fact, teaches that impermanence is the solution to suffering.  And "this, too, shall pass" has been the compelling thread running through all my semesters.

A Facebook friend, also married to a university professor, recently posted about her nostalgia for school supply shopping.  I know whereof she speaks.  I can't count the times I've haunted the back-to-school sales over the years, confronted by all that hope-in-a-notebook, dreams-of-glory-in-a-Pilot-pen ambience.  And some of my favorite memories are of August shopping trips in the big city with my Grammy for the perfect school outfits for me and my sisters.  The ones we couldn't wait to wear, regardless of the sweltering temperatures that so often accompanied our return to the halls of homework and gym class and novice social climbing.  

So maybe I'll take my kids and my favorite professor out trolling for some trappings of change.  And get ready for another round of anicca.  And try not to think of this rhythmic change as my own little rut.

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