Of all the times I wrote out the script in my head – of our first conversation after sabbatical, I assure you, it did not sound like this.
First off, I am still, somehow, I think, within the bounds of my sabbatical though you are in my thoughts and heart more so each day. What had been days and days of prayer, of reconnection with old friends and old cities, remembering the strength of my body that gave way to forgetting the habits of urgency and ferocity that thrived in my mind; webinars on leadership and SciFi books that imagined new worlds…. It seems now sabbatical is affording me the enormous and significant gift of being present for my family as we weather this time of physical disconnection from all others.
There is a poem I’ve returned to weekly, if not daily, since I’ve last seen you. It’s called “What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” by Brad Aaron Modlin.
“Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.”
During this sabbatical time, and with the companionship of this poem, I’ve been reminded that there was no magical day in which all the things – the coping mechanisms, the right practices, the answers or things that will make it all alright – they were not handed out while I was doing some Other Thing. We learn and we learn and we learn, mostly on our own, for that is the journey of our very own soul; we learn what we don’t yet know, and everyone else is learning too.
Right now, we are learning what it means to be apart from one another. What it means to rethink community, connection, stability, safety. Do not think you should know how to do this. There was no lesson you missed. It is frightening. It is vulnerable. We catch ourselves laughing. We can’t help but to continue reaching, searching, loving. Even in our distance, we do the work of being human together.
In these last few weeks of my sabbatical please know that I will continue to hold you in my heart.
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.” — Thich Nhat Hanh