Since this occasional diatribe is supposed to have something to do with writing, reading and wordsmithing I bet the title made you think I’m about to deal with the importance of providing good transitions in writing. You know, those little cleverly written bridges that link what you’ve been writing about to what you’re about to. So let me go ahead and do it concisely. Transitions are very important, and oftentimes essential, to providing a smooth journey for your reader. So use them.
But transitions loom much larger than in just what we write. Those metaphorical bridges pop up often in life, which is made up of countless transitions – some welcome, some not; some huge, some small – that serve as rites of passage along the way. Some of mine have been momentous; others weren’t even noticeable, like water slipping quietly under a bridge.
Here’s a personal example.
Some folks claim that their first day of school was a big deal. But if mine was a transition, I was either not yet old enough or not yet smart enough to realize it. My father was the superintendent of my hometown school, which housed grades one through twelve in one long building, and I’d been going up there with him since I was big enough to sit upright in the car. So going one more time, and staying for the entire day, probably didn’t seem as odd to me as it did to the other first graders, who’d never been there before.
The move from second grade to third was a much more memorable step. You see, in the Oakwood elementary school grades one and two were taught in a single classroom by Miss Francis, three and four by Miss Irwin, five and six by Miss Lillie Bell, and seven and eight by Miss Mae.
All I remember about my two years with Miss Francis was a lot of coloring and learning how to print, in our Big Chief tablets, the big letters that were pinned up over her blackboard. They were on long piece of green card-stock, the upper cases rising up higher than the lower, and I guess we worked our way though enough words and sentences of the “See Spot run” variety to learn to use them.
When we moved next door to Miss Irwin’s room the letters over her board were in cursive. And I remember thinking I was done for then. I already knew I would have to learn the multiplication tables in there because my older sister had told me, making it sound as ominous as the prospect of having to fight a bear.
Other transitions came and went. Birthdays, graduations, getting drafted, my marriage, the deaths of friends and family, anniversaries, and our daughter’s wedding were biggies. But one just wandered silently up, like a thief in the night.
Back when I turned fifty I didn’t think much about it until I received an invitation from the AARP to join their ranks. Because that letter represented a tangible transition, proof positive that I had somehow arrived in the foothills of the mountain range called Old Age, whose snow-capped peaks were still some distance off. But they were suddenly close enough to be in clear view.
Then I looked around me at the school where I was a teacher and noticed that most of the teachers and administrators I used to work with were no longer there. And, even more discomforting, that more and more of the students who stared at me from their desks were the sons and daughters of other students who once stared at me from the same desks.
I used to think, when my father was younger than I am now, that it was a miracle that he was still walking around. He was a good decade older than most of my friends’ parents, and I was afraid he would drop dead at any moment.
He taught, coached, and was superintendent at Oakwood from 1930 until 1966. A tenure that I once considered forever.
When I retired a few months ago, fifteen years after the AARP sent their invitation, I looked around at my fellow faculty members – several of whom, including an assistant principal and my department head, had been my students when they were in high school – I did some simple math and realized I had taught there for as long as my dad had worked in his school.
It seems one of the most important transitions in life is also one of the least recognizable: the passing of time.
It was the gifted author Isaac Asimov, who wrote gobs of books on a wide range of topics in his long live and was working on one the day he died, who probably said it best.
“Life is pleasant” he wrote,” and death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”