“Adults” out there will laugh at me, for wishing that the “good old days” of school could come back. That’s not really what I’m thinking about. For the last couple of years, “school” meant more than simply a place to learn. I spent a lot of time on campus, teaching, working on research, taking classes, simply hanging out. I had a lot of fun there. I experienced an energy, a vibrancy, that so many workplaces lack. I had a good job, and a good life.
This year, on the first day of school, I went to the city dump. This is the third visit I’ve made to landfill, and it doesn’t get any less heartbreaking with repetition. Today, I saw little kids playing with old shoes in a disgusting stream in view of a mountain of refuse. I also saw a pharmacy (and wondered to myself how many antibiotics they sell), a restaurant, a school, and a pig. Life happens in these slums. People grow up there, they work there, and they die there.
Today I am struck by how things have changed for me. Instead of a day planner, I carry around toilet paper and hand sanitizer (Seriously. You never know.) Sometimes a day at the office involves standing next to a railroad track watching a puppet show, or watching a woman create pottery in the provinces. I ride around on motorbikes and in big SUVs, honking at cattle and blowing kisses to toddlers riding next to me. I used to put on makeup; now I spray on DEET. I am constantly surrounded by people speaking a foreign language.
I refuse to make any statements about being a “student of life.” Again, that’s not what this is about. More than anything, I am meditating today on how simple choices, small (and large) changes can turn everything upside down. After all, I’ve not done anything all that radical. I took a job and I relocated. People do it every day. Hundreds of incoming students just moved; thousands of graduates did it too. The ones in Nebraska, Calgary, and New York City probably feel the same way I do (but with significantly less DEET). Yet in all the changes, all the transition, there are constants. I have found an energy here, a vibrancy that—while different—is familiar. I still have a good job, and I still have a good life.
So today I went to the city dump. And I blew kisses at a little girl on a motorbike. I wrote reports. I held hands with kids who are at risk of being trafficked. I stood next to a railroad track and watched a puppet show. I smelled disgusting smells. I put on bug spray and sunscreen.
They don't make a textbook for this life. And I love it.