Now it starts -- the calendar year may begin on January first, but my years have always begun in September. September is when you write again with a sharp new pencil on brand-new paper. In September you begin again, with a fresh supply of hope and resolve. Energy returns-- you are done with the goalless ennui of summer. Time to get to work.
I've gotten away with murder this summer -- many early evenings at home, hardly any meetings to go back for at night -- but the party's over. It's time to get down to business. I confess that I remain a bit limp this year: I must dip more deeply into my ancient reservoir of back-to-school excitement and stiffen my spine a bit.
A family came in, needing help. The two tween girls were dressed alike, jeans and identical green tee shirts. After determining what practical assistance I might give, the talk turned to school. Were they glad to be going back? They giggled a bit: one is and one isn't, their dad said, and went on to explain that his younger daughter was teased at school about her size.
That's so mean, isn't it, I said. It happened to me sometimes when I was a girl, I told her, remembering the boy who seemed to go out of his way to insult me. I had enough critical distance from the situation even then to see that he was mean to others as well, strikingly so. But it seemed that he was worse to me, and it stung. He was wealthy and handsome and bright, clearly destined for great things -- I was amused to learn recently that he is a lawyer now, and general counsel for a large bill collection company that specializes in going after people who fall behind on their mortgages and student loans. It is the perfect job for him.
We talked about the birds outside my office window, about what the girls liked to do for fun. The hummingbirds were still visiting that day -- they're gone now -- and the family got a chance to marvel at their tiny size, the invisible buzz of their wings. The father talked to me about homelessness, which they have experienced. The mother said little, keeping her hand near her mouth when she smiled, aware of her ruined teeth.
It was time for them to leave. I wished them good things this year -- better than you expect, I told the younger girl, and she giggled again. I wondered about that little laughter as they left, what pain it might conceal. Back to school is full of happy excitement for some and of dread for others. For some, school is suffering, almost without remission. For some, it is lethal. The fact that the parents knew of their child's pain and that they talked about it together gives me hope for them. They are poor. Their living is precarious. But they have each other.