Fare Thee Well (Again)

August 25, 2014

As of today I am no longer employed by James Madison University (JMU). My Facebook feed fills up today with former colleagues and students noting the first day of classes on the beautiful JMU campus. My feelings are mixed. Saying "farewell" seems to be a continuous affair, rather than one clean break.

In April, I announced my resignation shortly after receiving tenure and a promotion to associate professor (yeah, apparently I don't understand the concept of tenure). In May, we moved five states away to be closer to family and pursue some new opportunities. However, my last day at JMU was not actually until yesterday. Even though I was gone, it was not official until now.

Summer always brought freedom from classes and the absence of friends who also teach there. The end of summer and the start of school also served as an important marker as the yearly cycle repeated. Now I have jumped off the academic calender for the first year since I started kindergarten, and this will be only the second semester since kindergarten that I have not taken or taught a class (the other being my semester of paternity leave a couple years ago). As my grandfather, who taught school for over four decades joked when he retired, "I am now a teacher without any class."

It feels weird not to be heading across campus to my office to make my usual first-day-of-class jokes (trust me, I made reviewing the syllabus fun).

If I close my eyes, I can see myself walking the hallways outside my old office, happily greeting colleagues, and catching up on our summer adventures. If I open my eyes, I just need to wander over to Facebook to see those same faces.

I remain convinced that we made the right choice in moving. But after spending six years in a city, it is hard to leave friends (even harder than it was for those friends to cram all our stuff into a truck). Hopefully this season of life will provide new opportunities that would have been missed had we not made a big leap of faith. Although I enjoyed my colleagues, some administrative changes and decisions stole much of the joy of working at JMU. By leaving, perhaps I can hold JMU in greater regard with the happy memories remaining a greater percentage of the experience. 

Just as moving to Harrisonburg was the right decision at that time, I feel leaving was as well. Yet, even as I sought out a chance to move, I find it still hard to leave friends and mentors who helped make me a better writer, teacher, and person. My thoughts remain with them today, leaving me feeling distant. My eyes well up even though I don't want to return (why can't all the good ones just move to Missouri with me?). Checking Facebook and Twitter, I say "farewell" again but will see those faces and new updates tomorrow. A part of me will never move away from the Shenandoah Valley, and I find that heartening. "Someday," I tell my friends and myself, "I will go back to visit, to relive."

John Steinbeck, one of my favorite authors, wrote in The Winter of Our Discontent:
Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance. Good-by is short and final, a word with teeth sharp to bite through the string that ties past to the future.
So I bid "farewell" to JMU and my friends in Harrisonburg. I do not say "goodbye" - especially thanks to social media that keeps us connected. I truly hope they fare well. Saying "farewell" may sound sweeter than "goodbye," but it's also harder. I can offer a short, sharp break as I depart from those for whom I don't care. But saying "farewell" is different. It's not easy, it's not final. Perhaps feeling the need to say "farewell" again is what keeps it from changing to a "goodbye." My future is tied to them and others with whom I have journeyed.

So today I say to all my former colleagues at JMU and friends in Harrisonburg, "fare thee well." And I'll say it again tomorrow. And the day after that...