Wabi Sabi

Photo Credit: Ⅿeagan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ⅿeagan via Compfight cc

It’s nearing the end of the semester.  The air has grown warm, students are reading out of doors and hanging from the trees in hammocks.  In a little more than a week, black caps and gowns will dot the scene as we celebrate a new chapter in students’ colleagues’ lives. A long-anticipated summer break is only a few days away. There’s so much warmth and joy in the air.  Still, there’s just a hint of sadness lingering about the edges of all this excitement.

And I’m feeling a bit wabi sabi today.

Yes, I know that I misuse this term. From my admittedly flawed recollection, wabi sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that sees beauty even (or perhaps especially) when it is mixed with imperfection. I first ran across this proposed use of wabi sabi in Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She was looking for a word to express that feeling of being both happy and sad at the same time and wabi sabi seemed to fit the bill.

Her use of the term really resonated at the time and so wabi sabi comes to mind occasionally when I encounter imperfect beauty in my own life experience or more often when I feel a great deal of joy mixed with just a tinge of sadness.  As the semester draws to a close, this phrase floated into my mind once again.

There’s plenty of beauty to be seen at the end of the semester:

  •     in the once quiet, insecure, uncertain student who stands to give a strong, thoughtful, and thorough end-of-semester presentation.
  •     in the smile of a senior with only a couple of final exams standing between her and graduation.
  •     in the freshman who says, “I’ve learned how much I really do have to study to be successful.”
  •     and in the student who sits across from my desk with a giant grin on his face and a biology exam marked “A” in his hand, the same student who sank into that chair 13 weeks ago close to tears and wondering how to move forward.

Still, there’s just a hint of imperfection mixed with the beauty.  This time of year calls so many of my students to introspection and reflection on the semester past and it becomes more difficult to gloss over those flaws:

  •     Just a hint of anxiety in the student who is still unsure what direction he’s headed.
  •     A whiff of sadness in the student who is sitting out for a semester because of health struggles back home.
  •     The grief I feel as I read an email from a student who tells me he regrets the level of effort he’s shown and is afraid he might have disappointed the people who care about him.

Yet, even here there is room for hopeThere’s beauty mingled with the imperfection. (Tweet This)

I have hope to share with the student who can’t see his own potential.

I have hope to share with the student who feels that life is on-hold.

I have hope to share with the student who faces regret.

And I feel anew a sense of gratefulness that I teach at a school where we embrace faith as we learn. I don’t have to bite back these words of hope when yet another student drops into my office to share a bit of life’s imperfection.  So, I take a deep breath and plunge ahead, sharing just a hint of this great hope.

-ep

Real Live Prof

Semi-sweet. I am really sure that when I took the class, “How to Teach Sociology” at UNT, the prof never covered the end of the semester.

I was in my office this week, between classes, when three students dropped in. One is graduating next week, and is already applying for jobs for which ETBU has well prepared her. She is also getting married next year (she has already picked out the guy, and is asking us to save the date). The second student graduates in the spring, and is already planning on grad school. She too, is applying for jobs in her field. The third student (I have now run out of chairs), is graduating in the spring, and looking at grad school as well. They are all excited about life and the seemingly endless possibilities and permutations. I am very excited for them, and I know they will do very well. I should probably care more that they are so raucous and such frequent visitors, because I am sure “they” disturb the peace of the otherwise somber and tranquil office. But, I love being with students. It is my favorite part of the job. It is also emotionally taxing when they leave.

I know this because they will soon graduate, and be gone. Oh, they will promise to “stay in touch” and will try to do so. I might see some them at the Homecoming football game, or be asked to write a reference letter…and then I will see a posting or status update of theirs on Facebook, and realize I have not seen or heard from them for several years.

Students are also nervous about their futures and all of the unknowns it holds for them. I am always amused when they ask me, “Will you be at my graduation?”

I always respond, tongue in cheek. “I was thinking about not going this semester. However, because you were such a wonderful student, I will go, just for you.” (Of course, I am required to go.) But the truth is, I would not miss it even if I could. Semi-sweet: I love to meet the students’ families and I love to say over and over, “Congratulations!” However, nearly 30 graduation ceremonies (3 per year) have taught me it will probably be the last time I see most of them.

I was eating breakfast very early this morning with my wife Diana, when she said, out of the blue, “I miss my kids”.  One has graduated college, and has a job (The dream comes true!), but she lives 3 hours away. The second is half way through college, and stays gone most of the semester. The third, whom she was about to struggle with waking and getting to school, is in 8th grade. But I know what she means.