THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
Wordsworth—Ode on Immortality
The spring camping trip is over. A final week of school and another year at Fern Hill is done.
Commencement Day has arrived. Sun-dappled chaos. Teachers, friends, parents, grandparents, children spill over the yard. Nick flits behind the trees, as if the trees could contain him. His friend Jay perches in a tower festooned with banners.
The upper elementary band takes the stage, performing “Magical Milkshakes.” The band features two guitarists, three keyboardists, two percussionists, and a fiddler. A vocal by Ella-Jo—she has pipes far beyond her eleven years—stops the crowd.
No speeches, many thank-yous. Each class takes the stage in turn, each child is handed a flower as her name is called. This year eight will graduate. Their teachers bless them and give them bouquets.
Nick has alighted next to me.
“Now it hurts to see them go,” he says.
In the past, less so, because Nick was younger, and the graduates were giants. Every year he’s seen them closer. Now they are his friends, we share their big feelings. We are closer and closer to leaving this place.
I hug one of the graduate moms, and she doesn’t want to let go. I hold her, weeping, for five minutes. In two or three more years, I will be this woman.
A paradox of Zeno claims you never can get anywhere. Because first you must go half way, next, half of that, and so on, so it takes an infinity to reach any goal. It was many centuries before mathematicians were able to prove what parents knew all along, that infinities can be contained.
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind . . .
An inexorability impels you toward some inevitable edge, the distance halving by increments. You wish, like Zeno, never to arrive. But you always do. And then it’s over and you’re past it, and on to the next, and the next, and the edge of the infinite world rushes ever closer.
Was it right to come here, to give Nick this childhood in exchange for academics? His reading skill improves, but slowly, slowly. Perhaps this place wasn’t the right place for him. Perhaps more structure.
I worry about the littlest things. He jerks the dog while walking him.
“How would you like it if I did that to you?” I say, knowing it’s the wrong thing to say.
I seem to have to learn the most basic of lessons again and again.
Kay’s daughter, Petal, is leaving the school a year early.
“She wants to be in a classroom,” says Kay.
“She said, ‘Mommy, why didn’t you tell me about classrooms?’ I said, ‘Honey, you were being an animal for the last five years.'”
Kay says, “She said, ‘Oh yeah.'”
I confess my worries about Nick.
“Nick will tell you when he’s ready,” says Kay, then stops me cold.
“The thing is,” she says, “They have very clear voices now.”
A splash of water, clear voices. Isn’t that, in the end, all we want them to have? To speak in their own, clear voices?
Such a leap of faith, to have a child.
The sudden community concludes next time with Infinite water.
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Commencement stories? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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