When I was teaching school, this used to be an important day for me as it still is for many folks. The Wednesday after Labor Day sees our young people returning to school after their long summer vacation. It isn’t the same everywhere in our country. In some places, school has been in session for weeks but in those places dismissal for the summer also happens earlier, primarily because of the heat, I think. Right now it seems that some young people will not return to their schools at all this year; the schools are no longer habitable because of Hurricane Harvey. What will become of them, I wonder, for many reasons. Some will likely be home-schooled. Some may be shuttled to other locations. That happened in my own town after a flood in 2011. A Catholic parish school that had been closed and used for other parish functions was given back its identity for two years while a new school was built. Will the youth of Texas be so lucky as to find schooling together with their familiars?
That kind of disruption must be difficult for students. The youngest children are probably more adaptable because they are still curious and open to all kinds of difference but I think of middle and high school students whose friendships have been forged in similarity and safety. Because of my father’s work, I moved to a different state just as my seventh grade school year was about to begin. Luckily I ended up in a small school with only about 40 students in each grade, otherwise I think I might have drowned in the sea of newness and difference.
Even the best of friendships are not easy to maintain. Different career paths, marriage and our mobile society among other factors can affect relationships that may have been long-standing. Recently, however, I met a 69 year old woman from a small town who was speaking of her 67 year friendship with her first playmate. That, to me, is miraculous. I find myself a little envious of such fidelity and steadfast care, for that is what they have. More often now friendships are hard work, and more difficult as we age, perhaps.
I smile as I write that because I read a rather ironic paragraph this morning from Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours, quoted from his text, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. It couldn’t have been easy for him to be God’s friend, it seems, until he surrendered to the meaning of such a relationship. He’s speaking to God:
You ask of me nothing else than to be content that I am your Child and your Friend, simply to accept your friendship because it is your friendship. This friendship is Spirit. You have called me to be repeatedly born in the Spirit, repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence and in praise.
This may be a day to examine my willingness to surrender to what friendship – both divine and human – calls out from me and to be grateful for those I call by that name.