Another semester draws to a close. Classes are mostly finished (a few seminary stragglers insisting on one more time together). Exams are about to start. Students stand up straighter as the burden lifts; faculty backs are bowed over with the transfer of weight.
You can tell how much marking lecturers have to do by the urgency with which they tackle the task. If they are marking eagerly, they are near the end, or have only a bit to do in any case. If the pile of papers on their desks threatens to bend and break the wood, they find something else to do. I once saw one of my colleagues paint his office in order to avoid the pile of marking.
A week from today we have a banquet. Faculty and staff and students gather one last time to celebrate our lives together, and to send our graduates off. The next day is graduation. Speeches (we all listen, but no one remembers what is said); singing (some of the best of the year for those whose musical style is not primarily “contemporary”); awards and recognition (well earned); and finally the diplomas as students walk across the stage. Some of my students will kneel and be hooded, award the doctor of ministry.
Then they leave. I have trouble learning people’s names. I have to work at it. It takes me most of the year. And then they leave and I have to start over. I am grateful for those who return the next year and give me a head start on working out who is around me this time.
Leaving. At the end of the school year people leave. People who have become important in my life; and they leave. One gets to repeat the experience of parenting many times, repeatedly: You want your children to grow up and leave home, but you miss them when they are gone. I don’t mean that life comes to an end. The summer has its joys; but each summer brings loss as well as opportunity.
This summer the opportunity is to work on the story of Frances Davidson. Why did a pioneer missionary resign the mission she had helped begin? Why did younger missionaries force her out? Why did she not push back? She was a stubborn and strong personality, fully capable of holding her own, and she chose not to fight the changes new and younger missionaries introduced. Instead, she went home. Why? And what did she and the mission tell the church?
It’s a wonderful opportunity to dig into a story I have told often to my mission history classes. I’m looking forward to the process of exploration and discovery—however disconcerting it may be. (For example, I have discovered that my grandfather was the secretary of the committee who made the choices that sent Davidson home. I hadn’t told my students about that! Now I have to add a piece to the story that I would rather leave out.
Meanwhile everyone leaves, and we say goodbye again. And again, goodbye. My mind wanders to other students I have known, to friends from past years, faculty who have left us, change that washes over me as constantly as the ocean’s tide. I used to enjoy change. Now, not so much. But soon enough the time comes that I will be the one going and my colleagues and students will move on into the next year without me. Life’s journey goes on.