A bittersweet day


I went into the music room this evening and closed the door behind me. It was a no-brainer which instrument I would choose: the piano. Lately, that’s all I want, the piano. I sat down on the bench and laid my hands on the keyboard, my way of saying, “hello,” and finding out what kind of mood the piano is in. Once the piano starts talking to me I have to answer back, and that usually takes half the evening. I pulled out a melancholy tune in a minor key that seemed to fit the conversation that my fingers were having with the keyboard.

I was emotionally drained from the last day of school with my school kids. They left me today. It was like releasing a group of butterflies, unleashing them into the world in a burst of color and energy, the present and future absorbing them. It scared me, watching them go, hoping that they would all have good lives and happy futures, knowing that some of them would, and some might not.

Most of them cried. I don’t think I have had such an intense bunch. One boy started crying at 9 a.m., and later I thought he was going to hyperventilate. They all hugged me goodbye, something I’ve never been brave enough to do, fearing I would dissolve into a million tears, but today it seemed right. It started with the group hug initiated by the kids, and went from there. Not everyone participated, but the ones that I wanted to hold close forever seemed to be right there. They were full of nervous energy, again like butterflies, their bodies hot and overwrought, their wings vibrating as they poised to fly into the next stage of their lives.

We, students and their teachers, took that last bittersweet walk around the school, a tradition, and all the lower grades held out their hands to “high-five” all the graduating sixth graders. They knew they were walking those hallways for the last time as students, sad to go, happy, but apprehensive, of what lies ahead. Finally, we walked out the front door and into the sun. It was a holy moment, watching them being drawn inexorably toward their destinies.

The glare blinded me, there were more tears, and hugs, and then the kids were gone into the crowd of surging parents and other students. I felt the weight of the moment as I walked slowly around the east side of the school to take a group of kids to the bus (I had bus duty today). As I headed up the line, one of the little girls, a regular, came running up. “Can I be first?” she asked breathlessly.

“Of course, dear,” I said. The little guys who were usually there weren’t competing with her today, probably picked up by parents. She slid her hand sweetly into mine, and we walked toward the bus. “Did you have a good day?” I asked her, as I usually do.

“Yeah!” she said in her small voice, and smiled, her little face glowing. Maybe in a few years she will be in my class, I thought. Soon all three buses were loaded, and they rolled forward then out of the driveway. The handful of teachers, including me, were left standing at the curb, waving. “Have a great summer!” we yelled.

Then we turned, closed and locked the gate behind us, and took that long slow walk back to the empty school, all of us emotionally drained. One gate closes, another opens, as they say. August, and the start of a new school year, will be here quickly enough, but for right now, all I want to do is sleep. For a long time.

Oh, and play the piano.

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3 thoughts on “A bittersweet day

  1. Around my house, with a first grade teacher and a fourth grade teacher, I did not hear as much nostalgia as their kids move to the next grade. Then again, most of them will be back at their school again next year, so it is not as much of a transition as a) moving from elementary to junior high, and b) physically attending a new different school. I do hear them already planning some activities for their summer.

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