Hasta la vista.
When we say good-bye to someone, it is rarely good-bye for good. At least this is most often the case, in most of our minds.
For someone to occupy a distinct place in our memory – in this case, a male colleague – distinct and varied images and impressions gradually coalesce over the days and years. From the first meeting, an original and somehow forever identifiable stick man endlessly persists, to which millions of little pieces of putty are added, shaping and fleshing it out, until voilà: we have a fully formed figure in our heads. I and my colleague probably share many common experiences, though our reflections and opinions of those experiences might vary widely. With someone we vividly remember, these attributes resonate inside us, and come to occupy a permanent place – in contrast to the hundreds and probably thousands of people we meet and forget. Having such people in one’s life – and such people include brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, wives, husbands, other relatives, colleagues and friends – creates for me (and perhaps for all of us, if my experience can be extrapolated to others) a world I call my personal community. For me (and again, perhaps for all of us) such a personal community is the core of my life.
So: we transfer living, walking beings into figures in our imaginations. The original person whom I met decades ago on the steps of School House has changed, and he has also endured – the stick man my memory took home at the end of that first day has been remarkably durable under the accretion of weeks and years. Likewise the rest of my personal community: amid all the pulsing evolution and change is a deeper enduring shape. True, that enduring shape may pulse and change, but most importantly it earns the justification for that verb: it endures. The same is true, I know, of the wider world that exists beyond me, and which would endure pretty well the same whether I existed or not. The continuity is crucial to me, and allows attachment, belonging, dependence, affection and emotions deeper than affection. In such a continuing world we have people whom we love and care about without choice – such as our children, or our parents – and then we have people whom we choose (or perhaps to some extent they are chosen for us, found together with us at school, or work, the golf club, the gym, and so on) and are spouses, friends and colleagues. I shudder to think what my world would be like without such people. Clearly, I could not be a hermit.
My personal community includes, as it does for nearly everyone who reads these sentences, our school. The school is populated by people who evolve and change, the same people who also endure. The school has a culture which evolves and changes, and which also endures.
Last week, my colleague Tony Keble, came to see me in my office to tell me that after 38 years in the Spanish classroom, he is going to retire at the end of this school year. Tony is the last teacher on staff who dates from before the amalgamation of St. Michaels and University School; he taught for a year at St. Michael’s before the amalgamation. Another of our colleagues, Peter Gardiner, who now works in the Advancement Office, also dates from before the amalgamation; Peter taught at University School before the two schools joined. Both of these colleagues of mine remained vitally powerful and effective teachers throughout their careers. Just ask decades of students. It would be wrong to say that they “endured”, however. Yet the school endures because of them, and because of their enduring dedication and professional excellence. I count myself lucky to have such colleagues, and to share this extended moment where so many of our personal communities intersect.