Endings

Every day is a new beginning. Every morning, the sun rises over the eastern horizon and chases the day across the sky. As it goes, the current moment swallows the future, chews it quickly, and spits it out as the past. Every second is a new beginning and ending all wrapped up together in one narrow slice of forever. Every steady tick of the clock opens and closes doors and windows, taking the infinite “possible” and transforming it to immutable “history.”

I’ve watched beginnings and endings for a very long time. I wrote an entire book about them – they made an unavoidable subtheme in the account of my first spontaneous trip to Taiwan and China as I moved from place to place, with people and places continually appearing in my life before falling away behind the steady march of time like watching railroad ties fade away from a train’s caboose.

Today marked a new ending for me. Today was the last day of class for another semester. My work has only begun with the five-inch pile of papers stacked on my dining room table, but the faces of my students that I recall smiling, laughing, listening and speaking won’t return.

As always, this has been an enjoyable semester. We not only had a good time, but I’ve seen an impressive amount of progress in my student’s writing. We successfully accomplished our objectives. I had to get on their case once about putting in more effort and following the steps I had taught, but they rose to the occasion and impressed me with high-quality writing immediately after.

At the beginning of the semester, the majority of the students admitted to not liking writing much. I asked why and got the expected answers: it’s hard, it’s time consuming, grading is often ambiguous, and it often seems boring and pointless.

When I asked this week whether those attitudes have changed, I got the expected answers: they believe in the writing process. They know how to do a better job in less time and with less effort now, how to make writing more interesting by adding some creativity and tailoring it to an audience, and how to evaluate their writing and know they did a good job. While some students reported working harder in my class than any other, they didn’t seem to mind so much.

“Well,” I said as my last class of the afternoon wound down, “Thanks for showing up all semester. Thanks for participating and working hard and being brilliant. Good luck on finals!” Several students shook my hand on the way out and thanked me for a good semester.

I turned off the projector, packed up my things, stepped outside, and quickly zipped up my jacket in the cool twenty-something degree afternoon. The sun had already fallen half way beyond the western horizon. I stared at it as I walked, following its path toward my car, soaking in its rich, warm colors through bare tree branches whose leaves deserted them weeks ago. The glowing fluorescent-red orb sank behind Lake Mountain and today disappeared forever.

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