Each academic year the colleges and universities are the first to hold graduations, a ritual that signals the end of an academic year. The secondary schools soon follow and then we notice the morning traffic is appreciably lighter as the daily commute to elementary and secondary school ends. Teachers and staff exhale and enjoy a shared sense of completion and resolution for the good work, done well, for the right reasons.
This year is different in many ways. Many graduations are outdoors, even in stadiums, and a good bit of schooling carries on at home so the traffic isn’t what it used to be. Even if the signs are different, we know the year is ending. But, there’s strange mix of feelings, and it’s a bit harder to find that sense of completion and resolution in the deep exhale everyone is taking.
The upshot is that these past two academic years have offered countless lessons—lessons which, taken together, are enough to suggest a parable.
In the south of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall in his forest monastery. When the Rains Retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery.
A few days later a visitor came, saw the half-constructed building and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished. Without hesitation, the old monk said, “The hall is finished.”
“What do you mean, ‘The hall is finished?’” the visitor replied, taken aback. “It hasn’t got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like that? Are you mad? What do you mean, ‘The hall is finished’?”
The old abbot smiled and gently replied, “What’s done is finished,” and then went away to meditate.
These 15 months and three semesters have been like three sides of a triangle that don’t meet. It’s been a time of hit-and-miss, hurry-up-and-wait, start-and-stop. The continuity and stability that we prize in a “school that runs well” has been beyond our grasp. Yet, I think when we look over our shoulders in a year or so we will marvel, even more than we do now, at the creativity and resilience that the pandemic drew out of each of us and our educational community.
Perhaps that sense of completeness and resolution now gives way to new realizations. The hall is finished. What’s been done is finished. We’ve done good work, done it well, and for the right reasons. It’s time to take a break and take care of ourselves.
In my time as General Councilor for the North American Region I have been blessed to travel to many schools and educational centers. We have all been entrusted with a treasure in the mission and the young; it is inspiring to see in-person the care and dedication of Lasallian educators. Ironically, these months of being grounded and distant from the schools has only intensified that inspiration.
Inside of that inspiration is a deep appreciation for the way members of the educational community have taken care of one another. Until the stress test of these past 15 months we may not have known how central one another’s support is to our work and ministry. In my estimation, the test has revealed that our strength comes from the company of friends who care about what we care about and care about us caring for it.
It is my fervent desire that these summer months offer you the refreshment and recharge you deserve. It is my prayer that God provide you with fresh energy for the people and work that has been entrusted to you.
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC