Silent Words (A Tribute to my Chinese Students)
The worst time of year for me is the month of June. The students are exhausted and agitated, and any task that has a touch of complexity will only be received with rolling eyes, heavy sighs, slow-moving pens (or pencils) and half-opened eyes.
Worse yet is the constant awareness of the imminent separation after the last days of school. Suddenly, losing the habitual routine of a typical school day and the familiar faces that accompany that routine becomes an agonizing prospect. A desire springs up in both students and teachers (maybe it’s just me and not all teachers). This desire seeks to imprint every last, precious moment spent together into the banks of eternal memory. The most appealing thing about these last moments is that few thoughts are actually verbalized, few words are said; and yet, the meaning conveyed in these silent words is of such great magnitude that eyes are unable to hide it and tears are unwilling to ignore it. The human soul begins to wrestle with two forces, a yearning for an everlasting fellowship and a fear of loneliness.
The soul longs for an eternal fellowship, a permanent friendship, a never-ending companionship that lasts forever. This longing is a deep-seeded passion that signals something yet deeper inside of us. It shows that deep down inside, every human being yearns for a sense of belonging to a community that never dissipates or scatters. Unfortunately, nowhere on earth will that community ever be found. Every gathering disperses, every assembly disbands and all communities eventually scatter. Since this desire exists inside human beings, there must be a real place where it is actualized. Naturally, one is bound to look at the most idealized concept known to humanity, heaven. It is only in heaven where a joyful and eternal fellowship never ends. How else can I describe my students’ yearning for an eternal fellowship, other than a prayer, a petition or a supplication for a never-ending gathering where joy is constant?
The usual method of capturing these last moments is by resorting to pictures. What do these pictures indicate? What do they mean? We carry pictures of our loved-ones in our wallets to be a reminder for us everywhere we go. Likewise, when pictures are taken during the last days of school, it is almost as if to say, “I would like to take you with me everywhere I go,” or “I would like a piece of you to accompany me everywhere,” or better yet, “I would like this moment to last forever,” which are all unrealistic sentiments that are impossible to fulfill. As I already stated, the pictures constitute a memory. The attempt to obtain memories by capturing these last moments of departure is inspired by a fear, a fear of being forgotten and abandoned. For this reason, we implore one another, “do not forget me,” or “please remember me.” Consequently, we begin to write short anecdotes or pass souvenirs to one another, which often include pictures. Just like every human being yearns for an eternal fellowship, likewise this fear of being forgotten is also a common sentiment found inside every human being. It is impossible to be accompanied by a friend at all times. At one point or another, we are bound to be alone with no familiar faces around us. Since this fear of loneliness is a real experience that everyone undergoes at one time or another, there must exist a place where this fear is non-extant. It is impossible to recognize a fear if there were no real experience that stands in contrast to this fear. A child would never fear darkness if there were no light. A student would never fear failure if there were no success. Likewise, the existence of fear indicates that there is a place that is fully secured at all times. Where else can a person find this place other than heaven? Where else can a person not worry about being forgotten other than heaven? The pictures indicate that we are all looking for heaven, a perfect state of being where a person never feels lonely and forgotten.
Silent words are louder than spoken ones. The expressive eyes of my students on our last day were like the eyes of a dead deer, seeking to communicate their dissatisfaction at this moment of departure. The words I thought I heard were “please don’t go,” or “please stay here.” I, in turn, did not verbalize my thoughts either. All I could think of was “I am afraid you will forget me,” and “I will miss you.”