Tuesdays continue to be a day of respite from my typical schedule. In our school’s block scheduling, it turns out I only have one class on Tuesdays—a mere hour and half spent discussing books with students. The rest of the day is filled with reading, preparing lessons for the week, talking to co-workers, and watching the clock.
This is, of course, before all of the essays begin flooding in and I’m spending my afternoons defending the world from the onslaught of comma splices. But now—and I’m assuming for the rest of the year—there will be moments of rest in which I can pursue my own interests. This year I’ve decided to renew my commitment to Sabbath Tuesdays, a time in my work week during which I reflect and reconsider what it is I actually do on a day-to-day basis. It’s only the fourth week of the semester, but I’m already finding myself stepping into routines without any thought behind them, just because they pave the path of least resistance. Pausing mid-week allows me—compels me—to remember that there is a force at work besides myself, and that much of what I do is left to grace.
This past week, my sophomores read Beowulf. We discussed monsters and kings and warriors, had a Grendel drawing competition, and some students even presented a short Beowulf musical, complete with a torn and bloodied arm thrown across the room. More than anything, though, Beowulf is a story of legacy—of genealogies and familial relationships, of hearsay and stories of old. Who will be remembered? Who will be forgotten? Warriors are immortalized not in their heroic actions, but in how their story is recounted by the generations. Even Beowulf’s last order is to construct a barrow so his people remember him beyond his time.
Today I realized that many of my students were not yet born when the planes hit the World Trade Center, and that their version of the story depends entirely on the preceding generations’ storytelling. What will be remembered? What will be forgotten? It is on days like these that I feel the weight of teaching: we are essentially writing history in each of our communities by deciding how to tell the story.
Today also reminds me that our extended discussion last year concerning heroes in the Iliad is also essential, as it ultimately casts a vision of what action is required and honorable in a situation like 9/11. These great stories of the past have told us what is important and what is not—just as the stories we tell reveal what we hold most dear.
So here’s to another year of passing the days with high school students, reading great stories, and pausing to consider the narratives I tell.