The term “back to school” has had uncommon importance in my life.
From my own days in school, to those of my daughters, to 25 years as a high school teacher, it was a marker as big as Christmas and requiring as much preparation.
In high school, late July would find me sitting on the porch of my home, pouring through the hot-off-the-presses August issue of “Seventeen” magazine, the “special double issue” that was packed with what’s hot and what’s not and advice about how to look when school started. One season it decreed that cranberry and teal were the colors that should dominate your wardrobe; another it mandated hues of camel and grey. I pondered cute angora tams, wool plaid pleated skirts and heavy knee-highs as I sweated in the chaise in ninety-degree heat, eating a Popsicle. A month hardly seemed like enough time to get ready for it all – planning, shopping, sewing, organizing. I was always on a budget and it required the skill of General Patton to get the attack launched.
What I was attacking was all traces of the old me. “Back to school” meant a new start, symbolized by wardrobe – which my teenage heart naively saw as a key to social success. It meant a new book bag, new school supplies, and new hopes that the year would be a good one. A slate with earlier mistakes erased.
When Anna and Emily were living at home, the infamous “back to school shopping trip” – which I had naively thought would be a time of super mother-daughter bonding – was usually a fight to the finish as two very different personalities clashed over how long to stay in each store, who saw what first, and who was wasting the other’s time. One time, I was so frustrated that at our “special lunch” at the Rainforest Café, I slammed the lemonade glass down on the glass table top and announced, “I have — SO–had it–WITH THIS BICKERING!” And the lemonade flew and the glass shattered as servers came running and my kids chanted in horror: “Mah-hommmmm!”
As soon as I could, I just handed them each money and told them to go for it – without me along. Please.
When teaching at Blake, the preparation assumed a different configuration. It was more like constructing a fortress–of books, handouts, assignment sheets, and “audio-visual’ materials to help students be interested in the class the first day but also clearly understand that I meant business, didn’t suffer fools lightly, and still was a really fun teacher! Of course, I announced that no one in the 100 plus year history of The Blake School had ever, EVER been excused from doing their senior assembly speech so they had better not get any ideas and start thinking of topics (pause for emphasis) yesterday!
More than New Year’s, fall is a season of beginnings, whether it is new clothes, new classes, new church programs, new T.V. schedules, as well as the advent of football, falling leaves, and apple cobbler. It is also a tender time, when we first notice that the hours of daylight grow shorter, the growing season has ended, and “everything is honed down to structure” (memoirist May Sarton’s phrase).
The Gospel readings for the Sundays in September contain many of Jesus’ teachings about the limits and challenges of “riches.” And as we fill in our calendars and construct our priorities for the new beginnings that await, we are called to remember that one of our greatest riches is time. I ask you to prayerfully consider how much of it you will be offering to God this fall, whether by making a commitment to coming to church, to adult education programs, or to working on one of the many commissions that so desperately need your help. Maybe it means a commitment to ten minutes of reading each morning or evening.
A St. John’s parishioner offers this wonderful definition of spirituality: “A spiritual person is one who has their priorities ordered, can make sense of the people and things that comprise their world, and who values and treasures things beyond the material.”
A good “goal statement” for all of us going back to school. Three goals, really. I love this. Read it again and think about what you might want to do with this, yourself.
That’s your first assignment of the new semester.
See you in church.