All but one of the roads that lead away from my school lead downhill. I didn’t get this fact’s importance until I stepped onto the playground one morning and saw ten boys, lined up along the chain link, looking out, hands gripping the fence. Stepping up next to boy number ten, I asked what was going on.
Look down the hill. There it goes! Can you get it?
A big, brand new, red bouncy ball was leaving us – a top-quality kickball – and like every ball before this one, it cleared the fence and escaped. I saw it begin to roll and I knew I would not be able to get it. I got to watch it pick up speed, pop on a bit of street debris, and land moving faster than before. There stood I, powerless, just like the other ten boys.
Each time a ball goes over the fence, we get to practice how to give things up. I am a witness to daily launches of kickballs, soccer balls, and every other round thing. I have become more accustomed to the loss, having stood there at the fence, watching a ball fly over my head, smack in the center of the street, and then move on.
At times it may linger there as if deciding which way to go or whether it will go at all. But, in the end, gravity compels the journey downward, making the ball pick up speed, and then comes the vanishing. On a rare day, a kind driver will hop out of his vehicle and snatch one for us, or a ball might get caught on the tire of a parked car. More often, they go for good.
We don’t get to hang on to things as long as we want. They stay in our lives as long as they do. Nothing except practice blunts the punch of a loss. Just about everything we treasure goes – even our very selves. As the loss unfolds, time can seem to slow. I can imagine that I am hearing the little voices of wise spirits whisper unto me that which I have always needed to know about how to hold and honor that which I cannot own.
Tonight I got to visit with those wise little voices again. During the day, we had hosted a big festival on the playground. Music, children, snow cones and a half-dozen balls booted over the fence never to return. Our school sometimes measures the best days by the biggest losses. That’s one way to do it.
I closed up the yard gate after one last child walked out. I went in to lock up the building. I was the only one there. Standing alone in the halls of an empty school building serves as a kind of proof that the building itself is alive. Dark corridors, silent but full. Lights out and just the wind tunneling down hallways and under doors.
Creaks coming from behind the building’s old and weathered skin. Does it make sense to say that empty schools are full nonetheless – full of a particular kind of empty?
What I get to witness in a moment like this one is the arrival of an ending, advancing with jaws open, eating everything that had been in order to make space for what needs to come next.
That’s what the long-gone kickball would have wanted me to know.