Au Revoir, les Enfants

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Just chatted with one of my former students. It’s surprising how vividly she remembers being in my class – recalling details I have since relegated to the back of my mind.

Of course, I want to believe that this makes me memorable. But, if anything, I think what makes me memorable is my (former) profession. Most students remember their teachers. Most kids remember the adults in their lives. Even now, I harbor many a delusion about how much and how often my teachers might still think of me, years down the road and several states apart. They probably don’t. Or if they do, it’s to regale a cocktail anecdote. Nothing that would affirm the profound relationship I imagine in my head.

Good teachers (and there are many) do invest emotion in their work, and do take pieces of it with them. But as adults, we understand goodbyes in a way that children don’t. No matter the lip service, no matter the effort to keep in touch, we accept that even meaningful relationships may be finite. Farewells hurt, but they no longer cut into the deepest part of who we are. Call it growing up, call it cynicism, call it self-preservation. Somehow, we move on. It’s not that we will new memories to fade. We just…don’t cling to them. The more we see people come, the more we accept that they will go.

Kids don’t often talk about losing people to geography, to adult decisions. Perhaps their acquiescence makes it easier for adults to leave them behind. To move on, and even to forget. Adults in my life mistook my silence for resilience – sometimes, for nonchalance. They misunderstood, possibly out of convenience. As I rake through my own memories and re-read emails from former students, I realize that kids don’t think about exits in quite the same way. In time, they’ll be as familiar with goodbyes as any of us. (As if that’s a good thing.) But not just yet.

And so I forget – except when I am in the company of children – that young hearts are not Teflon. That if you ever meant something to a child, then you are profoundly part of the adults they become. When you exited their lives, it probably hurt – in ways they never told you. You didn’t mean it and it couldn’t be helped. Life happened! This is not about blame. It’s about the very special kind of pain children feel when people leave, especially when no one is to blame. What can you do when you can’t even be angry? Grow up, I guess.

Whatever that means.

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4 thoughts on “Au Revoir, les Enfants

  1. Pingback: Dear Karen | What Shih Said

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