Early this morning I met two of the four classes that I'll teach this semester. (Technically, it's called the "spring" semester, but that nomenclature fools nobody when January temperatures hover in the 20's.)
After introducing myself and taking roll, I always distribute copies of the syllabus. These documents outline what content will be covered and what assignments will be due each class from now until early May, those days ahead when it really will be spring.
Even though technicalities are plotted in advance -- what pages to read when, what papers and projects to submit -- we have no idea what lies ahead during these next few months. Who will these students turn out to be, these faces I saw and names I called for the first time today? What stories will be told, what insights will be shared, and what goals will be met?
The syllabus is full, but the slate is still blank. There's great promise ahead. There's also great amounts of work ahead. This past weekend I confessed to my husband, "Somehow I feel like my life is ending when the semester is starting." I know how much coaching and emailing and grading will be required from me.
Just yesterday as I skimmed Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird looking for one writing quote to read to my rhetoric class, I stumbled upon the book's namesake passage:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.
I've reflected on this passage many times since my first reading of this book, and its simple wisdom struck a chord yet again. Bird by bird is a good way to live.
Bird by bird. Just take it bird by bird, buddy.