What teaching taught me about saying goodbye

Formerly published in Tumblr.

My year starts in June and it ends in March. You’d think it’s a year later but it’s only ten months. And then it starts again. The people I meet each time school starts never seem to age. They had an average of 13 when I began six years ago; they’ll be in the same range again this coming June. And yet, I age. I see myself in some sort of cycle of birth and rebirth. Time runs out on me but I never feel a thing. It’s true what they say: teaching is work that extends to eternity.

The school year has just ended. The first batch I ever advised, 2011, just graduated. A rather intense year of SS2 with 2013 has also come to a close. And soon I’ll be letting go of an assignment I’ve held on to for the longest time as I tackle a completely new one. In many ways, this should be an end of an era for me but it doesn’t feel like it. There is no other appropriate word these days then good bye, and yet that is the last thing I intend to say.

And I’ve been wondering why. Has my heart become that hardened? Have I become that aloof? Thankfully, I’ve recently found the words. Here goes.

Those who believe that life is a journey only have it half right. As the cliche goes, it’s not about the destination but about how you get there. That’s half true too.

Recently, I’ve realized that life is more like a quest.

What is a quest? We have many examples. It can be about a band of rebels blowing up the Death Star. It can be about a Fellowship trying to destroy a ring. It can be about The Boy Who Lived and his mission to collect and neutralize some ancient artifacts that sustain a dark power. All these are examples of quests.

Any quest begins with a mission. Recall the examples above. But some of us here want to become a doctor. To graduate, land a good job, and serve our families. To find the one and never let her go. And it is this mission that gives our life purpose. It gives it meaning. However, a lot of us end up living our lives for the sake of that mission. Not everyone succeeds. Some die trying. But it is because they missed something: that a quest is a journey too.

Those who say that life is a journey refer to two inescapable realities about our lives. First, we can never do it alone. Luke Skywalker, for all his promising power, needed Han, Leia and Chewie. Frodo needed the Fellowship. Harry needed Hermione and Ron. Not to mention the guidance of wise masters: Obi-wan Kenobi, Yoda, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. But even our enemies — our own personal Vaders, Saurons, and Voldemorts — exist if only to try us and make us better.

The second inescapable reality of a journey is that it should make us grow. It should teach us. It should level us up. From a farm boy, Luke became a Jedi master. From a Hobbit neglected by all, Frodo became the only one strong enough to carry the ring to the end. Harry earned his legacy and celebrated the love of his parents and friends to overcome a great evil. If our lives don’t take us far away from where we’ve been then we’re missing out on what life can be.

For sure, my students have been enjoying their journeys pretty well. If their blog posts, statuses, and Facebook albums are any indication, they pretty much have their band of rebels and fellowships intact. Their thoughtful reflection about life assure me that they are learning. They’ve taken the journey aspect of life well to heart.

And yet, some of them feel lost. A good number are unsure of where they are right now. An equal number are uncertain if they’re headed in the right direction. Their mission isn’t clear. Or they’ve been handed a mission without having the tools required to see it accomplished. Eventually they will. Then they can begin their quests.

What does this have to do with learning how not to say goodbye?

Because in the past years I stumbled upon a secret, or what could be a secret. It is this realization that taught me that people may come and go, but there will be something that remains. What is the secret?

Simply: That it is the mission that brings people together. It is in being together that the mission is done.

I am on a quest too.

Over the past years I’ve learned that I am not alone in my aspirations for a better country. I am not alone in thinking that if we want to change the world we start with ourselves. I am not alone in wanting to be courageous and strong for those without the will or the power to stand on their own two feet. I’ve seen this in my students’ eyes. I’ve read this in their papers, I heard it in their words. I no longer feel the need for goodbye because in my students’ coming and going, I don’t feel that I am being left behind. No. They’re on a journey, as am I.

As long as we keep those dreams alive, my dear students, we will always find each other. The time given to us for now may have ended for now, but there will always be tomorrow. Our specific goals in life may differ and so for some of us it may be a while before we meet again. But your years in Pisay have imbibed in you a mission. The search for the untarnished truth. The pursuit of the glorious thee. So stay true to what these past four years have made you. Stay true so that I may find you.

There will be no goodbye. Only I thank you, I’ll miss you, and until we meet again.

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