O

ur community’s children went back to school last week in that annual rite of childhood and teenager-hood. Five years apart, Wesley and Cammie Jo never went to the same school together, although they enjoyed some of the same teachers. For them, school days combined the exciting and the mundane, hard academic work and socializing, successes and challenges. Their school days were, as well, a constant process of maturation.

These first days of a new school year involve those things that are new, an adjustment to new hours, represented at least in earlier morning wake-up calls, if not always in earlier bedtimes, new patterns of living and being, encounters with new subjects and new teachers and new friends.  These early days of school also mean a re-introduction to the old: old friends to be sure, but also old worries and concerns. And old parents.

I’ve heard it said that children keep parents young, but that’s not the way I feel. With each new school year, I feel the gap widening between youth and the aged, between matters that occupy the minds and hearts of the young and parental concerns. I feel more and more like an old fogey, a creature belonging to the past, an anachronism.

I try to think back to my own first days of a new school year. I remember wearing new clothes and carrying new school supplies, not in a backpack, but in a book satchel.  One year, I carried a Roy Rogers lunchbox, in anticipation of the lunch room shenanigans that always seemed to take place during those few minutes between bites of peanut butter sandwiches and gulps of milk. I carried new, freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, in anticipation of the themes we would write and notes we might pass. 

And just as I wore into the classroom new blue jeans with the too long legs folded up in anticipation of how tall I was sure to grow, each new school year we still anticipate how much we will grow. We anticipate with good intentions all that is before us, all that is before our children and ourselves.

So, here’s to the hope that the anticipation of all that will be great and good can override any fear and anxiety. I speak for parents as well as students. I speak for the school administrators, the principals and the counselors. I speak for the teachers, those folks that are in the business of transforming lives. Our son, Wesley, is after all experiencing his first new school year at Murray High School.

The great Southern writer Walker Percy paid tribute to a great teacher in his life when he wrote that the teacher says “Look!” and the grateful student says, “Yes, I see!” Here’s to the hope for a vision of what our students, our children, will see and for what they will become.

So, when Wesley and Cammie Jo were in school we always took part in a family ritual. After a hurried breakfast, we gathered at our front door stoop to unfurl a colorful “Back to School” flag. The banner showed Snoopy from Peanuts fame marching with confidence to his own school.  With a baseball cap on backwards, our Snoopy wore sunglasses and toted a yellow backpack. We took our pictures of Cammie Jo and Wesley with the confident Snoopy, and then took off for school in anticipation of all that yet another school year would bring.

This year, I for one will pray for the students, teachers and administrators, for grace as they go back to school yet again.

Duane Bolin is Professor Emeritus of History at Murray State University. Contact him at jbolin@murraystate.edu. “Home and Away” runs each Tuesday in the Murray Ledger & Times. 

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