Back to the beginning.

“You Begin” by Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.

The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

(Emphasis mine.)

One of the classes I am taking this semester is an undergrad class in the School of Education, and I giggled to myself when I listened to the undergrads and their passion to change the world. I love my kids and I love what I do, but I don’t have any lofty notions that I am going to change the world. Don’t get me wrong – changing the world is nice. I would like to do it. But lately I have been thinking smaller, about the process, about that new beginning every year.

We have survived the first week of school, a week filled with the usual combination of normalcy and insanity that you expect with the first week back. (Also there was some vomit. On my feet. But you probably don’t want to hear about all of that.) I have begun yet again to try to help my students understand the ways that the library can be their door to a bigger world. Just as the poem describes: from yourself to the world outside your window to an even larger world, and then back to yourself, but hopefully not unchanged. Again and again and again, because the world is fuller and more difficult than I can explain to them in just one shot.

The last sermon in my pastor’s Seuss series was on On Beyond Zebra, and he talked about challenging our boundaries and going beyond what we know to make a difference in the world. The text was Abraham taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, but there were also a lot of references to Jesus, who went “On Beyond Zebra,” beyond what was known, in ways that are hard to comprehend, even for those of us who are his followers. He also pointed out that, as Mother Teresa said, small things with great love can change the world. We don’t have to give all our money away or move to the other side of the world to become missionaries to go “beyond zebra.”

I have thought about that servant love as I have greeted kids in the car rider line, as I have wandered into seventh grade classes to say hello to my kids from last year, as I have chosen and assigned tasks to my media assistants, and as I have juggled the stress and excitement of beginning again. I don’t want to trivialize how hard it can be to work with kids, how many directions I get pulled in from time to time. But working in a school has taught me a lot about what it really means to take the sacrificial love of Jesus out in the world, what his teachings really mean, and how living them out, even when you fail, does not leave you unchanged. And so we begin again this process of learning – yes, math and social studies and science and reading, but also what it means to live in this big, complicated, burning world.

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