The weather outside might cause a toddler (or adult in a stage of arrested development) to describe this day as “icky”: rainy, chillly, dreary, and blanketed with thick clouds. But, fresh off of a few days in Ithaca, NY, I am full of sunshine and rainbows due in large part to a nice dose of time spent with the lovely A and family. These are the types of visits that make one actually consider moving, relocating work and home because of the generative nature of the dialogue that emerges from a concentrated period of time together. This is one of the things I hoped would be the case when sabbatical seemed like a possibility on the horizon: time, good time, with those who feed your thinking, with whom you have a shorthand and can pick up on unfinished conversations from weeks or months earlier.
A few colleagues had mentioned to me that among the great joys of this brief respite from the familiar and routine mundaneness would be the opportunity to talk with others — about your work, about their work, about the world, questions of significance, and more; but especially to hear in the narrated experiences of new and familiar others resonances and divergences from that about which you have spent considerable time cultivating understandings. And this is precisely what transpired as I listened to undergraduates share their observations, worries, questions, uncertainties, and convictions about teaching, about youth and the complicated nature of adolescents/ce, about the states of education, and purposes of schooling. We screened short films, raised questions, and I left their company with a sense of hope that these young people were among the nation’s next batch of teachers.
I had a similar experience while visiting S in Athens, GA earlier this fall and like the critically curious undergraduates up north, their southern counterparts, too, worried aloud about access, inequity, and opportunity in the larger realm of an education climate where words continue to speak louder than words. Like all of us, they, too, needed time and space and, in some cases, permission to share their reflections with others. “Find and form a posse,” I often tell my graduate students. And these visits to various parts of the country and pockets of the world have allowed me to do the same: to relish in the extended time with friends who are also colleagues in the truest sense of the word, with whom there is also space to imagine and reflect, and questions linger comfortably.
In addition to the more formal interactions and officially sanctioned exchanges that are the purview of an organized colloquium or talk, the opportunities for spontaneous and situated understandings of’ quotidian ways of being other than your own offer joyous moments. In Athens, I was given a grand tour of all homemade furniture, accessories, and other accoutrements created by a 9-year-old for her American doll. In Ithaca, these moments included listening to a charming six-year-old read with feeling and conviction all 63 pages of a book about a loving family of lions; having a jinx contest with an energetic and energizing 3 and half year old even before your teeth have been brushed (jinx: if you both say the same word, the first one to say “jinx” can silence the other until the other’s name is said. Not entirely unlike Machiavellian maneuverings of power and silencing, but far more adorable 🙂 ) I took a walk, took in rust-colored spectrum of leaves glowing with color, and saw a doe, a deer, a female deer. Tis a special joy to be invited into the lives of those whom (and whose friendships) you truly treasure, and for a brief moment see the world from their horizons.
Earlier today, my bus left the topographical caress of the Finger Lakes region of this vast and impressive state. As we descended in altitude swiftly, from hilltops toward cityscapes, I found myself thinking, as I often do when I take my leave of similar settings: What must it be like to wake up and take in a mountainous skyline each day? To stumble onto a waterfall, a rock formation, etchings of the history of time? What is the effect on one’s pysche — not to mention state of allergies — to breathe in, deeply, air that simultaneously chills the smallest corners of your lungs and soothes the soul with its crystal clarity? How does one retain glimpses of the insights gained from journeying upon returning home?