Wednesday, June 19, 2013

School's Out

“The things that have been most valuable to me I did not learn in school.”  ~Will Smith

“It’s time to say goodbye but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello.  Hello to a new adventure.”  ~Ernie Harwell

And just like that, I have a high schooler – my firstborn, my daughter, and mercy me, how did that happen? – and a sixth grader – a 5’4” son, with feet larger than mine, who is beginning his last year of Primary School and looking forward to graduation festivities of his own a year from now.

As the release bell rung at the Primary Campus today, I captured several photos like these:

I asked my son last night if he preferred homeschooling (which we did on furlough) or going to school here.  “Going to school, Mom,” was his response.  “Definitely going to school.”

(But of course he was glad to be done, too.)

To flesh out the conversation, he and I talked about how the dynamics are different in more ways than one.  In Washington he really didn’t have any friends; in contrast, even if he was homeschooled here, he would have plenty of friends to play with in the afternoons. 

This is one of the best parts of this community: the availability – and proximity - of friends for our children.  Two of my son’s best mates (I can say that because one of them is Aussie) live within five houses of us.  My daughter’s friends are a bit more scattered, but it’s still only a six to eight minute walk to one house or another.  Not to mention the classmate who lives under our roof.

But these friendships – and the eventual but inevitable partings - are ironically also one of the things that can make the life of an MK (and often of their parents, too) difficult and even painful. My daughter’s first best friend “went finish” (a local colloquialism for leaving and planning to not return to PNG) back to Germany in 2010.  Her subsequent best friend “went finish” back to Finland (yes, there were the associated “going Finnish” jokes) in 2011.  The next dearest friend she latched onto “went finish” to Australia in 2012.

All in June.

Personally I’ve never felt compelled to participate in “Cry Week,” but it’s probably only a matter of time before my kids will want to do so.  Just tonight my might-as-well-be-adopted teenage daughter said that she was going to be picked up at 6am tomorrow “to go out to Aviation” to say goodbye to a friend.  Here’s the scenario … as soon as high school graduation (which was tonight) is over, our aviation department is overrun for the next week or two with families flying out, going on furlough or finish.

Now, for the seniors whose families are simply going on furlough, they still have to face the fact that they themselves may as well be going finish.  While some alumni do eventually find their way back here to visit, or even as appointed missionaries themselves, there are no guarantees they will ever be back.

My mother tells me that I was fairly horrid to live with as my own high school graduation approached and then the summer dragged on.  I think she was pretty much ready to throw me out of the house by August, because I was ready to go, and I was acting like it. 

While they definitely do experience a fair amount of “senioritis,” I think these kids here tend to struggle with the milestone, too - experiencing a personal tug-of-war within their spirits, conflicted by a sense of personal adventure that clashes brazenly with an expected, but still very raw, grief.  The class (this year consisting of 24 graduates) has bonded over years of living together in a unique environment, far away from their passport countries and cultures, in this place that truly has a culture all its own.  They have shared everything together.  And now as they walk across the stage to receive their hard-earned and long-awaited tickets to freedom, they also stand on the cusp of having to say real goodbyes to so many people who have loved and nurtured them, who understand them because they have lived this life too, and who are now departing for destinations, literally, all around the world.

Of my own graduating class of 600 students, about 250 went to one state college and more than 200 others to the rival school, leaving fewer than 25% of us to go elsewhere.  Of those, most of us stayed within about four southern states.

These kids are flying off to four different continents.

As per tradition, the last day of school at the Secondary Campus includes what is affectionately known as “the Wailing Wall.”  I have not experienced it personally, but I am told that all the people who are leaving (graduates and others leaving for furlough or finish) line up and everyone else (in the whole school!) walks by and says goodbye to each of them.

Tears, sniffles, sobs, hugs, piles of tissue.

Call me callous, but that just sounds like torture to me.  Like someone somewhere is surely scoring a sadistic satisfaction from such a sad scene.   

To prove I wasn’t totally unfeeling, I asked the girls this evening how it went. They had little to say.

“It was sad,” one of them said.  Uh huh … I would think so.  By its very nature … yeah.

And with that cry week has begun, jumpstarted by this little quirk of Ukarumpa culture.

So over the next couple of weeks, these same kids will be “going out to Aviation” to see their friends off.  To give and receive last hugs and promises of permanent connectivity via email and Facebook.  To pray together.  To wave frantically and bury their faces in each others' shoulders, and then watch through tear-blurred eyes as our single-engine planes rumble down the dirt runway and soar into the next set of life experiences.

No, I suppose I don’t tend to do goodbyes well.  I’d rather do “see ya laters.”  Technically, it would be okay because in Christ we most definitely will see each other again. But I wonder if these teenagers might have it right.  It still doesn’t make me want to “do Cry Week," but perhaps this is a healthier path on which to travel through grief.

These kids are some of the most resilient and amazing people I know.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged.
Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

~Romans 5:3-5, The Message

Update, 12 July 2013: This blog has been republished in two parts at Teachers in Service, Inc, an organization dedicated to recruiting teachers for Missionary schools around the world.  Their vision?  "The perpetual surplus of teachers for Children of Missionaries."

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We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

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(Updated 13 April 2013)