My son Aibek went back to school last week, and like many kids preparing for this annual new beginning he wasn’t exactly embracing it. In fact, on the cusp of third grade he came up with a very clear plan for how the world should run. “We should have nine months of summer vacation and three months of school!” he proclaimed.
There’s something about this back-to-school time of year that just naturally stirs not only creative innovations but lots of mixed feelings: excitement, curiosity, sadness, anxiety, disorientation. Gowing up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in the ’60s, I remember having all of those feelings – sometimes all at once. They would most churn up on Labor Day because we always started school the Wednesday after the holiday. So on Labor Day especially I understood that in one way or another, I was plunging into the unknown.
Sometimes that new beginning can be especially dramatic. My son and I spent the week before back-to-school on board the Semester at Sea ship as it sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Halifax, Nova Scotia. My wife Krista was part of the staff training and orientation preparing for the arrival of 650 students about to sail around the world for their Fall 2010 Semester program. “Your life is about to change” was the mantra that students soon would hear.
Isn’t that true to one degree or another for all of us swept up in the back-to-school spirit? Whether we are a student, a parent, a teacher, or just an observer of this late-summer ritual, we feel that sense of sailing off into the unknown. And whether the new beginning ultimately turns out to be fun or scary, or just a small change from what we had known before, we recognize that a new year has truly begun.
That’s why for years after my own school days, and before my son came along, I sitll carried that sense of late August or early Sepetmber as the real passage to the new year. The calendar could try to tell us that January 1 was New Year’s Day, but I was never fooled. The new year began when school started. That’s when the barometer would measure who I was, how I fit (or didn’t), and what I would be undertaking. That’s when we all would measure how one another had changed, whether it be the boy who grew six inches, the girl (or boy!) who sported a drastic new hair style, or the family that had moved out of town. So many of my prominent memories are wrapped around that time of year.
Is it that way for you? Does Labor Day and this back-to-school climate stir your memories of your own new beginnings tied to the school calendar? If you are writing your life story, or telling your life story to someone who is helping you to preserve your memories in a memoir or autobiography, you might find that focusing on back-to-school will just naturally bring poignant stories to the forefront. Quick, get them down before the New Year slips away!
– Kevin Quirk, Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historitans and the Association of Ghostwriters