He lay in a stupor of weariness. He hung suspended in a timeless space. He could neither go forward nor back. Something was ended. Nothing was begun.
–from The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
As my daughter and I finished reading this semester’s literature book, The Yearling, my voice unexpectedly left me, mid-sentence. I tried again, but the words were pushing the emotion out from my eyes and my voice refused to cooperate. I rolled my eyes at her while I took a deep breath and she tolerated my pause. I had tearlessly made it to the final sentence and was as surprised as she to be unable to complete it. It wasn’t really the final sentence that stood on my vocal cords, daring me to croak out the few remaining words. It was those words from earlier in the chapter that gripped my mother-soul and the knowledge of them overwhelmed me.
Yes, I was touched with the significance of this moment; my last child finding her own way from childhood to young adult like the protagonist in the story, but it was more. Yes, the storyline overwhelmed me with the sweet reminders of the other child-to-adult transformations of her siblings, but the ache that caught my heart in my throat was still something else.
The above excerpt, written in 1938, is an uncanny description of this current season of our lives: this timeless alone-apart something where we all feel like we are leaving something we loved, but are not sure we treasured enough, while we are wary of what new thing may be ahead. We hang “suspended in a timeless space” where we are not in control of the tempo or the choreography of this dance through present history.
We found ourselves in uncharted emotional, physical and spiritual waters when we were all pushed into the deep end of “distance learning” and “together-apart” and “shelter-at-home.” We faced new first times, scary transitions, and questions demanding answers when we had few facts on which to base our replies. In some ways, we sent out a corporate SOS and weren’t sure who was going to hear us.
We are still in the space between. The thing is, I don’t know of one transition that isn’t ugly. Think baby into a toddler. Think Middle School. Think puberty. And, roll your eyes, think menopause. Ugly. All ugly in their own ways. Leaving the safety of the known for the future unknown is always…rough.
Like tightrope walkers, we have left the security of where we were as a community, with all its beauty and purpose as well as struggle and weaknesses, and we are headed on this tightrope toward the unknown Whatever before us. This wire taking us from what we knew to what is ahead can only hold us if there is tension. Rarely do we see transformation in one simple step (except on Facebook) and never have I seen it without tension. (…which is usually ugly. Can I get a witness?!)
We can use that tension and decide that what we are leaving behind is left behind us. No one makes it across the tightrope if she clings to the place she just left. We need to grieve our losses in order to fully celebrate whatever our new normals will be. Goodbyes are hard but they’re harder if one refuses to acknowledge them. The Biblical call to forget “those things which are behind” doesn’t mean ignore them. (Philippians 3:13) Take the time to close the door on what was, be it a specific grade, an event that was canceled, or the people you miss.
Stepping across this transition/tightrope with confidence when we don’t always feel it is a choice. There will be a surprising crosswind or unexpected gust to make us catch our breath and question whether we can do this, make it through this. We know this walk can build our endurance (James 1:2-3). Unlike Jody in The Yearling, we have a community to lean on, and a 15-year school history supporting us. We have a network of other Ambleside Schools and our credentialing organization, Ambleside Schools International, sharing best practices with each other. We have the God who knows all the hairs on our heads and He can show each of us how we ought to educate our children.
One of the satisfactory moments in The Yearling is when Jody chooses to selflessly step into his role as a household provider instead of clinging to his irresponsible childhood ways. From the hardships he and his yearling created, a young man emerges and begins to take his place serving instead of being served. Each of us has transitions we are personally “walking across” as well as those we are facing as the Ambleside community. May we keep our hearts set on the true prize before us, and remember, even though “transitions are ugly,” there is the opportunity for grace and new maturity for each of us as we live into the person God created us to be.