Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to School

This week, buses have been lining up outside the schools near church. Kids pour in and out of the buses with new backpacks, homework, and friends. Our childcare center is in full swing, welcoming kids for another year of fun during the day.

Since I’m a “pipeliner” and went straight from college to seminary, I have never experienced this season without new classes of my own. Even pastoral internship was marked with self, supervisor, and committee evaluations that marked the time like a school year.

I celebrated this week by cleaning out the Sunday school classrooms and restocking them with fresh supplies. I love this ritual that takes place every late summer. I used to bring my supply lists to Office Max and cruise the aisles. Like most Type A - First Born children, I color coded my notebooks and folders for each class and had everything tucked in my backpack neatly by mid-August.

In college and seminary I loved receiving my new syllabus on the first day (or download it ahead of time) and flipped through to take in the readings and assignments. For a moment, I would believe that all of this would get done with the same perfection as the nicely stapled instructions. I crave that fresh start and I think the seasonal and liturgical calendars mark the cycles of my mood and transitions well.

Last week I brought my September issue of Lutheran Women Today to a coffee shop near church and had lunch by myself. I like to read it through cover to cover because the theme permeates each article and they can hold each other up in my memory. LWT also offers a 9 month bible study every school year and a 3 month bible study in the summer that is great for small groups and circles. This month we begin with Ruth and Naomi, so many stories in this issue reflect that companionship.

While I sat reading Martha E. Stortz’s Tale of Two Widows, I listened in on a man and woman having coffee behind me. I would guess them to be in their late 70s, but the roar of their laughter sounded like two teenagers skipping class. They waded through stacks of pictures telling stories about their families and Labor Day weekend. “There was no way in heaven I was gonna get on that blasted jet ski, but they invited me along so I said, ‘You bet. Why not?’” Later I heard her review on the weekend of relaxation. “One of my knees got sunburned. That’s about the most exciting thing that happened.” (Giggles.)

It sounded as though they’ve both lost their spouses and have been friends long enough to know each other’s children well. They cared for each other’s stories and details like true friends. I smiled when they laughed and thought about how Martha’s article connected with their friendship. “Put simply, suffering is what happens to you; grief is what you do about it.” She gives the example of a woman who suffers a stroke. That’s suffering because she was the object of the sentence. Because of the stroke, the woman uses a cane and, on bad days, uses a walker that her grandchildren painted like a rainbow. That’s grief. Grief is dealing with the suffering in a way of your choosing.

Sometimes grieving brings us back to our old lives, like Mary at the tomb on Easter morning. Grief can mean sitting still and dreaming about the life we used to have or the one we wish we had instead. But here were two friends built up by the other’s listening ear and hooting about the ways life is funny sometimes. New life, fresh starts, and a new school year can turn grief into living forward when we have someone to share pictures with and tell stories to.

Another rhythm begins as fall approaches. May you have a good laugh with a dear friend who helps your grief become life. And may you begin this school year looking to learn and become.

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