The Art of Losing

Elizabeth Bishop’s intriguing and delicate poem always comes to my mind at the end of the school year. I hope someday some of my own students will have poems like this in their hearts, poems that come to their aid and express what cannot otherwise really be expressed.
 

One Art – by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
 so many things seem filled with the intent
 to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 Lose something every day.  Accept the fluster
 of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
 The art of losing isn't hard to master.

 Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
 places, and names, and where it was you meant
 to travel.  None of these will bring disaster.

 I lost my mother's watch.  And look! my last, or
 next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
 The art of losing isn't hard to master.

 I lost two cities, lovely ones.  And, vaster,
 some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
 I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

 ---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
 I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
 the art of losing's not too hard to master
 though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

Friday was the last day of classes. I spent part of each class visiting the freshman and explaining their summer reading assignments to them, while the junior English teacher visited my kids. For the rest of the period I answered questions about the final exam, gave them some extra study guides and rubrics and things of that sort. It was pretty mundane, actually.

 

Honestly I like keeping things mundane at the end of the year. No standing on desks for me, thank you. I’m so emotionally wrung out by the end of the year that it wouldn’t take much to push me over the edge.
 
A few students, though, came and visited me during lunch or after school to say a special “thank you” – which was very moving to me. The student who asked me at the beginning of the year “Who is Christianity?” came and gave me a big hug before I could stop her. I wish I had taken greater care in thanking each of my own teachers at the end of the year when I was in school.  I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, / some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. / I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

 

On the other hand, I also had a student infuriate me by acting out quite rudely to another teacher. I kept him after school for a while writing a lengthy apology letter. The first one was not satisfactory, so he had to start over and write another. He was frustrated because he did not believe (or at least admit, at first) that he had done anything wrong. I was frustrated because he had acted so obtusely and rather maliciously, and did not seem to understand why I was making him write the letter.  Lose something every day. Accept the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. 

 

There were the usual hordes coming in at lunchtime in desperation, hoping (for some reason) that I would give them an extension on their final paper… the day it was due. As usual, I was cruel and heartless. 

 

But I was saddened later to learn that one student in particular would not be returning to my school next year. She has tackled my class with tenacity, hard work, and lots of sarcasm. Unsure about her own beliefs about God and Catholicism, she has asked some of the best questions I’ve ever heard a high school student ask. I have loved talking with her outside of class about her papers and her questions. I wrote in her yearbook that she should never stop asking those questions. Those who seek, will find. I will miss her.  But I shan’t have lied. It’s evident / the art of losing’s not too hard to master. 

 

All in all, it was a very typical day except for the art of losing part. A junior, who was one of my kids last year, came in at the end of the day and remarked as he was leaving, “It must be kind of hard being a teacher. You have to say goodbye to so many people so often.” 

 

I agreed but added rather casually that one has to get used to it. So many things seem filled with the intent /
to be lost that their loss is no disaster…

 

Awhile later I pulled into the parking lot outside of my apartment, turned off the ignition, and suddenly found myself crying – maybe because I felt a little of what real parents feel when they send their kids off to college.

 

What a gift I have! To get to know these crazy people and come to care about them so much.

 

I definitely need a break. But give me a few weeks and I’ll be impatient for next year, for another batch of people to love and eventually to say goodbye to.

 

Good thing the art of losing isn’t hard to master. …though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

photo-4

my empty classroom

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3 Comments

Filed under Christ, Education, Literature, Poetry, Teaching

3 responses to “The Art of Losing

  1. Kathleen Shea

    Maura, I am so deeply touched by your post and the love you have for your students!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Maura,
    I appreciate your writing this and relate wholeheartedly. This semester, I didn’t make it to the last day of my own class because I found out about a loved one’s death the day before and feared that I was not in the right shape for the party we were supposed to have in class (it was supposed to be really informal–half of my students don’t even show up for that last day). While I’m sure my students enjoyed the opportunity to study for other finals, I was sad to miss my chance to say goodbye. Teaching college is really hard because you get them only for one semester and, at a school of 35,000 students, rarely see them again. There’s a grieving, but it’s also beautiful because (I hope) I have taught them what I need to teach them and now they can go forth and continue their education. I get to enjoy them and love them for such a short part of their college career and then I lose them to the higher-ups, the ones who teach more than just introductory composition. But, I always know that there will be another freshman needing help with their writing. Some call it job insurance, but I consider it more of a higher calling–getting to love students and be a resource during their first or second semester of college is a joy.
    Enjoy your short break! It will be fall before we know it.
    KW

  3. Pingback: In Defense of Memorization | Mysteries and Manners

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