As the spring sunshine warms campus and students migrate out of their dorms onto the pathways and fields around campus during this post-Spring Break quarantine, we are filled with hope for the term ahead. At the same time, our community processes the loss of a long-time community member to cancer last week and walks alongside another as she battles late stage cancer. Both far too young, both remarkable humans who have made this school a better place and touched the lives of countless students, colleagues, and friends over the past decades. We find ourselves, again, learning how to hold the contradictory emotions of joy and mourning with grace.
Some professions ask you to maintain separation between family life and “work”, but that is not a prerequisite for being a boarding school educator. Instead, we are at our best when we integrate our families into our work. Our students get to know our children, see us parent (both the good moments and not-so-good moments), observe us pursue our own passions, and witness first hand the hard work it takes to sustain a loving, supportive community. When there are moments of heartbreak, we illustrate to our students that grieving is a process to embrace, not one to shove in a box, compartmentalized from the rest of our being.
At a place like Proctor, students also get to see our joy. Just as the first blossoms of spring persist through a long winter, so too does our hope for the good in the world around us. When we pursue joy, through our work with our students, through time spent in nature, through the building and sustaining of relationships with those we love, our joy-seeking behavior has a compounding impact on our community. Given the love these two community members have for the natural world, the words of poet Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things resonate deeply as we continue to learn how to honor grief without compromising joy:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
As we look around campus and see our students soaking up time outside, time with each other, and a sense of normal during a year that has been so far from normal, we are reminded of the good, good work that lies ahead of us this spring. If the past year has taught us anything, it that there is always room for hope. Always. May we work hard each day to simply find ways to let light into each other’s lives as we help set each other free to pursue joy, even while we mourn.