Head of School’s Notebook: Sunset

May 24, 2023

Poet Dean Young writes, “The sea seemingly a constant to the naked eye is one long goodbye, perpetually the tide recedes, beaches dotted with debris.”

But the tide surges too, brings with it force and energy, a long reach ever farther up the beach.  The surging tide is full of hope, driving in a series of forays towards whatever is beyond it.

That is the life of schools and school years, too, an ever-rising tide of endeavor that seeks something elusive: a distance, a thought, an accomplishment, ever longer reach.  Like breath we surge, pressing and then recovering, pressing and recovering.  There is no boundary we can’t push through, as long as we allow the swell that began deep within us or a long time ago to gain momentum and scale.  Progress comes not from a single moment but from the combined mass of every moment, whether we are waves or students.

It is the moon that drives the tides, and gravity.  That force against which we all must push simply to stand.  Surging requires much more.  Newton’s third law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  A wave faces no welcoming beach.  It pushes back, tests the wave, slows it down, a patient antagonist.

Students do not fear the moon.  How many late nights do they look up from their work and see that glowing orb or sliver hanging in the heavens above them?  How many times do they note its progress across the night sky, a marker of time and study? The moon is a companion when the rest of the world is dark and its inhabitants asleep.

And what is gravity to a student but a challenge to test limits?  A force that holds us at rest is a reminder that progress requires something from us.  Only we can push past the inertia.  Newton’s third law again, informing our aspiration.  Every student knows this.

But tides do not rise perpetually.  Waves recede to settle and gain new strength.  And the beach, like the poem says, lies empty, containing only the remnants of the effort that once was, the bits and pieces suspended within the surge that never return to the sea.

So end school years as well, when the reaching that has distinguished the year nears its zenith, and we prepare to take a breath and then subside.  As the tide of students retreats, the energy of this place diminishes, and we separate to return for a time to the places that formed us.

That is the long goodbye, when we recede leaving only that which floated in the wake of our dreams behind.  Some of us will come again to this place to be a part of the next rising tide.  Some will surge on different shores.  But this place will remain waiting for the souls whose aspirations distinguish it.  The remnants of the last wave picked up by the next.

We will rise again, here or somewhere.  That is the life of schools and students.  Resolute as the tide, rhythmic as the journey of our companion moon, gentle as a friendship, as constant as the sea.