I think I will always pause on the first Thursday after Labor Day to remember that it's the first day of school. My school, that is. After 13 years of first Thursdays, it feels natural to have a lasting memory, an imprint. For reasons I'm not quite certain of, the second Thursday in June, also known as the last day of school, doesn't have quite the same resonance, possibly because once high school came along, the vagaries of exam schedules made the last couple weeks of the school year less uniform. First days, though, everyone was the same.
I find it especially surreal this morning that I get out of the subway on the corner where I grew up. I take my subway to work each day. If I took the northwest exit instead of the southwest one, I would be fewer than 50 feet from my house. Where my parents would be awake and preparing for their days. The house from which I left on each of those first Thursdays after Labor Day to walk the five, and then three, blocks to school. Much of the neighborhood is different from when I walked those blocks. On the route to school, not a single store remains in its originally remembered incarnation, but the number of steps it takes from my front door to school are unchanged. I guess I'm rather pleased that my walk to work takes me in the opposite direction - too much familiarity might breed contempt.
The last first Thursday after Labor Day on which I went to school was the last first day of school I enjoyed, so my happy memories are tinged bittersweet by what came after - a fairly unremarkable four years of college. There was an excitement borne of the order of first days unreplicable at college, where every man is for himself and the campus is a disparate web of unrelated classrooms; where books aren't waiting for you at class, but rather waiting for you at the end of a very long line at the town bookshop; where a week could go by before you reconnect with a friend because he's a polisci major and you're a math major and your paths never cross; where teachers have private closed-door offices and going to see one doesn't necessitate seeing the others.
A former teacher of mine from high school passed away this week. In all fairness and honesty, he was not a favorite teacher. We came to loggerheads during the only class of his I took as it was apparent I had taken the class knowing how easy the subject matter was going to be for me and, due to the structure of the class, with students working in teams, my expertise brought up the grades of my team as well. We just never connected. But, and perhaps rose colored glasses are at work here, since his office was the communal office for all members of faculty in that discipline, when I came to see another teacher, I saw him too, and there was always a pleasant greeting - something that literally never happened at college: once you were out of a professor's class you had to go out of your way to find and speak with him again. I found that the camaraderie of the shared office space actually created better relationships among students and teachers; I have several distinct memories of teachers whose classes were not among my favorites but with whom I bantered productively while waiting in the departmental office.
High school, and by extension middle and elementary school, are a far more distant memory than I like to admit and, frankly, than I feel. I saw the students walking this morning and realized that while I may still relate to myself at 16, I clearly have no shared experiences with actual 16-year olds. I have yet to run into a teacher on my commute, but now that the school year has started, I know it's only a matter of time - I think, in reality, though I too am now an adult, my shared experiences with them are more of a hypothetical.
Memories are finicky and I know I have downplayed many of my less sympathetic ones to arrive at a more or less uniformly positive set for my schooling. But I knew when I woke up this morning that it was the first day of school, and I'm pretty sure I'll know that for a good many years to come.
5 days ago