Friday, June 12, 2015

Saying Goodbye

I went to a retirement party last night. It was beautiful. Sometimes these things are overdone and feel like a Bar Mitzvah, but not this one. It was in a relatively quiet room at a bar/ restaurant, and I was pretty happy they didn't make us wait until ten o' clock to eat. I've been to a few like that, and because I get up ridiculously early, I tend to leave those pretty hungry.

But that wasn't the best part. For one thing, this teacher drew a varied crowd. The cafeteria staff, students from the last three decades, paraprofessionals, and at least three administrators showed up. The stories about how this teacher touched the lives of her students were incredible, and most of them came firsthand from the students themselves. A paraprofessional stood up and told a story about how this teacher had turned around her daughter for the better.

Even more shocking, this teacher got up and sang a goodbye song, homemade, to the tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and oh my gosh, she could really sing. I say this as someone who winces at music concerts where the orchestra or chorus plays out of tune, even when my own daughter is part of it.

I listened to speaker after speaker testify to her extraordinary dedication, her depth of character, her unwillingness to settle for second best from her kids. They painted a picture of someone whose loss would be felt by many. They painted a picture of someone it would be very tough, if not impossible, to replace. This is a humble person who doesn't go around singing her own praises.

I don't tend to trust people who sing their own praises. It's pretty much always better if someone else does it for you. It's certainly more credible.  But here's the thing--when you work in a huge building with a humble and unassuming person for a long time, you may not ever find out what exactly that person does. And that's kind of a shame.

I know the program this person works in, and it's a great program. I know they've helped a lot of kids in my school. and a lot of kids who I also serve. That's why I went to this party, even though I knew I had to get up very early. But for the first time in many years of going to such parties, I left with regret, for not having gotten to know someone who's clearly a very special person.

I'm thinking now about the Joni Mitchell song, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone."  I'm gonna try to make it not always seem to go that way from now on.
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