Yesterday I thought I had my emotional defenses up, but something snuck past my guard. That's the way it always works: always the unexpected thing. Hurriedly preparing some personality type training for the staff, made a dash for my storage locker to seek out some materials. More accurately a closet than a locker, it holds the material remains of my higher education career. The facility is located on the corner of my old campus, a block from my current office—at the end of the Year of Hell, I only had the physical and emotional capacity to box up my office, load it onto a cart, wheel it over, and lock it away. Haven't really looked back since; just pay my money every month to insure that those shards are still somewhere.
Didn't find the stuff I was looking for, but returned to the office with a framed photograph and three Zip disks. The photo was of my RA staff at the University of Maryland, the Ellicott Men, my "little trees." The latter term came from Deb, the Associate Director of Resident Life there. She and I had a long converation once about Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree: she hated the book because she believed it taught poor boundaries, abusive relationships, and an unconditional love that wasn't realistic; I told her I loved the book because of that love, that love that is necessary if any other kind of love is ever to exist at all. When I left Maryland, Deb gave me a card in which she said, "I will take care of your 'little trees.'" Their smiling faces now look at me across my desk.
Accessed one of the Zip disks later in the day to discover a file labelled "RA Pictures." Inside were scanned photos from my last good year at Seattle University, before the Year of Hell, during Fall Training. One of the last files was a picture of me with my last staff, all sitting in a circle outside. They are relaxed yet attentive and engaged; themselves and yet part of a team. And I am leading them.
The memories are good ones; the fact that they are now memories is the sad part. I miss those people, those days, and that me. I don't know if I even understand people well enough to lead them anymore. It's not the hardest life I've had to leave behind; it's just the one I can talk about, the one I can show others. In telling those stories, I tell a little of the other stories, the stranger, harder ones, the memories I cannot share. In remembering this, I remember much, much more.
So it hurt, but at least it is a sadness I can write about and share, a loss that I can grieve and other people can understand.