Our lives are transient -- we are like leaves on a tree. But fresh new leaves emerge each spring. And we who teach leave part of our selves behind, with some of our students. Here are some reflections on this and other things.
This was written on a foggy winter's day in Brooklyn, while the writer was recovering from the strain of making a difficult life decision. He was sitting in a teachers' lounge, in an unusual state of calm reverie, while observing the teachers there -- some middle aged, some very young. They were talking with one another, and going about their grading and preparatory tasks, during their break from teaching.
The building was an old one -- yet sturdy, and still being renovated. And so it was that the ghosts of teachers past, and the shadows of teachers yet to come, seemed also to be present -- as did this teacher's own youth, in another city far away. He had been reminded of that distant time and place while walking through the misty streets earlier that morning.
All of these things seemed to come together in that teacher's lounge, as though all time and place were one. It was as quiet and transcendent a moment as one can hope for in a busy teacher's life.
In this, my fifth decade upon this earth,
I breathe this air, so often breathed before,
And yet as fresh, today, as it was when
Life first emerged from ocean's nourishment.
On this calm winter's day on Brooklyn's seaward edge,
As warming ocean mists caress stark city trees
And softly blur hard edge of street and sign and store --
I sit inside a city school, as warm as steam
Can make it -- dreaming, in the teachers' lounge,
Of streets and stores and signs 'cross seas far hence, \1
Bathed in the air and light of wintertime --
With smoke of wood-fed stoves, and morning mists
That cleared away as dawntime turned to day,
While tropic winter's sun warmed pavement folk,
And livelihoods, or deaths, were sought in city bustle...
Of her, indeed, I dreamed in subbing's solitude -- \1
That other, busy-languid town where we were born,
And grew up, taking in, through all our senses fresh,
Into young minds and hearts, all that was new
To us, and yet was old -- thus learning, day by day,
What those, who lived before, had learned, and changed, and left
For us to live, and learn, and change, and leave behind --
A rippled, churning wake of feelings, thoughts and forms --
To flood, and nurture, growing hearts and minds.
And all we learned, though old, was yet as fresh, for us,
As 'twas to them, who went before, and will remain
As fresh to those who follow after us, as is this air
That I, right now, breathe in, retain, and soft exhale
In this warm teacher's lounge where teachers mill --
Where I perceive those teachers gone before, and those
Not born, all passing through, all flowing, like this breath,
On this calm winter's day, on Brooklyn's seaward edge.
Arjun Janah < firstname.lastname@example.org >
2006 Jan 13 Fri
Brooklyn Studio Secondary School
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York
1. The writer is an immigrant, in his 31st year in this country, and in his 19th year of teaching in the New York City Public Schools. He is currently "subbing" while on family leave.