A old friend of mine passed away a while back. I didn’t find out until a week later.
How can that be, you ask, if he was truly a good friend? It’s a good question — one I’ve asked myself. Despite the fact that I have known him for over 35 years, we haven’t seen each other in quite some time, probably half a decade. He lived in Halona:wa; Zuni Pueblo to you melicans, and I’m six hours away in Tucson. We knew how to get a hold of each other. We even knew exactly where the other lived. We looked forward to our infrequent get togethers; dinners at his favorite Mexican restaurant in Gallup or a hasty breakfast when he got off his night job as a security guard. More rarely he would have a day off and he would accompany us to someplace special in Zuni. We were both were sorry when we had to part, promising to get together to share a few laughs again soon.
Like most teachers, for much of my teaching career I had a second job. Because I had been an archaeologist I used my training in that field and taught classes for a local community college. I also worked as a tour guide to archaeological sites and Indian reservations. One of my last full time excavations had been in northeastern Arizona and I had met several members of the Zuni tribe who worked as laborers for the project. Some of them befriended me and one in particular invited me to various activities and dances at the pueblo and we became close friends.
Over the years as I took various trips around the southwest as a tour guide if I ended up in Gallup or passed near Zuni I always stopped to see him and his family. His youngest brother lived at a satellite farming village where he tended the family’s flock of sheep and made traditional pottery out of clays he dug himself. Many of the people on my tours were enamored of his work and would buy pieces from him. Soon my trips to Zuni were added to the tours and eventually Zuni became a tour itself.
That worked out great for me as it gave me another opportunity to see my friend once or twice a year. He took my group to Hawikuh, the Zuni village where Coronado had attacked in retaliation for the killing of Esteban the Moor. He also took us to other prehistoric Zuni villages and some special places in and around the pueblo such as an eagle rehabilitation center.
Eventually, I gave up the second job and my opportunities to see my friend decreased. I always intended to make a special trip just to go see him, just as he had always promised to come to Tucson. The years went on and neither of us followed through.
Then I opened my email, recognized his son’s name and saw that the headline of the message was my friend’s name. “Oh no,” I said to myself. I knew what it was before I even opened it.
Now instead of reality I am left with what should have been.
In that way life is rather like teaching. When you are a school teacher you never finish a school year, it just ends. As the children go out the door that last time you are always left saying, “Wait, I didn’t get to tell you some important things, you can’t leave yet.” You are left sitting in a room surrounded by the residue of the year. You look around and wonder what else you could have done.
Questions haunt your summer break and drive your preparation for a new year. What could I have done better? Should I have spent more time with this or that? Do they really understand (fill in your critical objective here)? If I had only known then . . . .
This continues until the next year when an entirely new group shows up. In the rush of a new year with all its decisions you often forget what you learned in reflection over the summer or find that it is not applicable to this group, or just fail in your intentions, not necessarily through action but sometimes just by distraction. You just never do all you meant to. It is the curse of the teacher. No matter how much you do, you always could have done more.
And eventually you are left with your memories and regrets. And that just has to be enough.