"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Drawing: Why Pa Pham Wasn’t Paying Attention in Class

I had to share this bittersweet piece of art with a wider audience. Sam (Pa Pham), a Vietnamese student, was evidently not all that engaged in the lesson during her last day in class. Though, she seemed like it, so maybe it’s more generous to assume she is just an excellent multi-tasker. I can’t relate, I guess; when I try to multi-task I do stupid stuff like slice open my finger.

The drawing below (the second picture is a zoomed-in version of part of the larger) contains the faces of the Fall C-1 (Pre-Advanced) English class. There’s really no such thing as a “Fall C-1” class, given the way the system works at EF Olympia. Students arrive and depart frequently, creating a substantial amount of turnover in class organization. Teachers are generally not with a specific group for long.

But this particular group was intact for several weeks, until one-by-one they started leaving, perhaps heading off to an American university or back to their home country to study or work. Of the twelve students portrayed here, only four remain at our school today.

Isn't this the sweetest? No, probably not…many of you probably have baby pictures you think are sweeter. Everybody things pictures of their baby are the sweetest. Well these students—and I don’t mean to patronize any of you EF students who visit this blog, many of whom are my age or maybe older—are my “babies.” In my classes I feel responsible not only to offer a better grasp of what verbs most commonly pair with infinitives and which are better suited to gerunds; I feel responsible for their well-being and so attempt to be attentive, supportive, respectful, and compassionate.

Goodbyes are hard. Their coming often feels abrupt, without warning, and their happening often feels a bit lacking, unsatisfying, like they should be more cinematic or complete.

Life at EF involves a great deal of change, of coming and going, and demands flexibility from teachers and students. From my time here and from previous goodbyes from the many countries I’ve visited, I think I'm improving in my ability to accept the reality of this flux...while also gaining an ever-greater gratitude for the gift of remembering.

My dear, sweet C-1 students, from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Turkey, Norway, Germany, Columbia, and Brazil: I hope you seek, as I have been seeking, to cultivate the virtue of remembrance. To a certain extent, I suspect that my memories are as real and present as those very real and present things which can be touched.

In my own faith tradition, remembering is essential. Remembering grounds me in what I believe to be the great narrative of God and humankind. It is in remembering that I am centered, empowered, given direction and given hope.

And through remembering the people and communities with whom my life has intersected, I am given an extraordinary sense of joy. In the end, it is these people and my experiences with these people that clarify for me whether or not I'm enjoying life to the full, more than any personal ambitions and interests I may have. To open oneself to others in love may be to open oneself to suffering; but suffering, too, has meaning.

May all of you, and myself, while recognizing the necessity of letting go and the inevitability of losing the immediacy of physical presence...may we nonetheless make the effort to bring to consciousness from time to time the people whose paths have crossed our own, people who may have shaped our identity in some small way and perhaps enhanced our enjoyment of life in some small way as well.

And may you not hesitate to spy on one another through facebook. J

Thanks, Sam, for capturing so wonderfully the special community that formed through several weeks together. There are many such communities at EF Olympia, I'm sure. But I’m honored to have been a part of this particular one.