Hoofprints of the Stag

Hoofprints of the Stag

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Leaving Utah and Looking Back: A Series of Reflections

This blog post wound up taking the form of four separate reflections on my time. There are no pictures in the post, so let memories be your photographs.

Reflection #1: Here I am at the 12th street Denny's in Ogden. My car is packed to the gills, I have turned in my keys, and I have begun the journey home to Portland. It seems funny to use the term 'home' for Portland since Utah has slowly become my home over the last six years. Can a person have two homes? Yes, I would say, and more.

When I taught at St. Joseph's in Ogden, I was involved in the theatre program there. On closing night, after the show was over, the cast and crew would strike the entire set within a couple of hours, and usually by midnight, the black box theatre gave no sign that a magnificent and intricate set had ever been there. It was the kind of thing that made one question whether there had actually been a play there or if one had simply imagined its existence. But the show lives on in the memory of those who performed it and those who experienced it. Once the set was struck (stricken?), the cast and crew and some parents would all go to Denny's to celebrate. Imagine the look on the waiter's face when 50 energetic kids (some still in their theatre makeup) walk in and get assigned to his section at one in the morning. The post-strike Denny's run was a tradition, and I partook of several of them during my time at St. Joe's.

And now, here I sit in the very same 12th street establishment. Tonight is my closing night, ending a six year run in Utah. I have struck my set; both my classroom and my house are devoid of any sign that I had ever been there. Did Luke Stager actually live and work in Utah, or did we just imagine it? Just like the play, though Utah may not give any sign that I was ever here, the realness of the experience will live on in my memory and in the memories of those with whom I came into contact.

My teacher friend Adam arrives at the restaurant and finds me immersed in thought, and we reminisce about Ogden, Salt Lake, and our schools, sharing tales and memories, and looking with hope toward the future.

Reflection #2: As I prepare to leave Utah, a flurry of thoughts passes through my mind. This has been one of my best summers, and I wish I could extend my time here a little longer. I wasn't able to accomplish everything on my Utah bucket list, but that's okay for a few reasons. 1) My Utah bucket list did exactly what it was supposed to do. It motivated me to use my time wisely and to avoid spending a lot of unnecessary time indoors. 2) Having too many items on a bucket list is much better than having too few. I think anytime a person leaves a place they have lived for a while, there will always invariably be a sense of incompleteness. I would never want to leave Utah feeling like I had seen everything there is to see and done everything there is to do. That sense of restlessness and longing for this place is something I would like to preserve. It will help me remember this place even more fondly. 3) An incomplete bucket list should never be taken as a sign of failure. People who have bucket lists often have a tendency to measure their value by how much of their bucket list they have completed. This is a dangerous philosophy to have. This is especially important when we evaluate the travels and experiences of others. I think we often measure others' experiences by our own possibly very different set of expectations. An example: "You mean you lived in Utah for six years and you've never been to Temple Square?" Yes, that is true. But to measure those six years based on one stereotypical thing I didn't do seems outrageous. I played my viola on the top of Grandeur Peak. Who has done that? I was privileged to sing Bach's St. John's Passion and Mendelssohn's St. Paul with one of the best choirs I've ever sung in. I watched my students learn and grow up and do great things. Those sorts of very unique experiences are what will define my time here. We should never quantify another's experiences based on what we ourselves expect. Who knows what special and unique memories they have created and stored away?

Another theme that has been playing in my mind is the idea that nothing ever stays the same. As soon as I leave Utah, I will never come back to the same Utah. Sure, some things will remain, but I will once again be an outsider to the goings on. Things will proceed without me, as has been happening in Portland since I left six years ago. But even though it's a little sad to miss out on everything, I think it is important that things do change. That is what makes life in any place a joy and an adventure. It's just hard to know that things will change regardless of your involvement or attention to it.

Reflection #3: I am all at once delighted that I have met so many wonderful people during my time here and but also frightened by the fact that I may never see some of these people ever again this side of heaven. I may find similar people in Portland or even similar students if I teach again some day, but no person could ever replace by any means the people I have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing over the last six years. I remember the summer between my last year at St. Joseph's and my first year at Judge Memorial. My teacher friend Andrew and I were talking about various students we'd had and the amusing stories associated with them. I was telling him about a particular student I'd had named Maria Palmetto (code named, of course). There were many hilarious 'Maria Palmetto' stories, and I was lamenting the fact that at Judge, there would be no Maria Palmetto. "Do you think there could be another Maria Palmetto at Judge? Or someone like her?" I asked somewhat facetiously. I knew my friend's answer and agreed with it before he even spoke. He said, "No, I don't think so." He paused as I nodded in agreement. "And I hope you would be disappointed if you did." His comment struck me. "Yes, I suppose I would be." I said almost automatically. And it was true. Every person I have met in Utah is unique and special, and I am sure I will never find anyone anywhere else who could ever replace them. Yes, the people I've gotten to know are irreplaceable, and I know I'd be more than just a little disappointed if they weren't.

So thank you, good people of Utah, for making my experience what it was. Though I leave and enter a new phase of my life, these last six years will remain in my memory, and nothing in my future years will ever be able to replace it.  I might lament that I won't find another 'you' in Portland, but because you are uniquely awesome, I now know I would be disappointed if I did.

Reflection #4: As soon as I learned that my first PACE reaching assignment would be in Ogden, UT, I immediately knew exactly where I wanted to visit when I got there. I had learned about the famed Golden Spike, which joined the original transcontinental railroad, during my first week at my firsts real engineering job at the freight rail company Gunderson in Portland. They had made me and this other new guy watch a documentary about the history of rail transport in the United States, and it featured the Golden Spike heavily. It really captured my imagination, but when I actually got to Utah, I never went. In fact, I never went at all during my six year sojourn in Utah. Never went, that is, until last week, right before leaving.

Admittedly, the exhibit is not super exciting, and none of the original ceremonial spikes are even there; they are all sitting in museums somewhere collecting dust. But I thought of all the people who labored and died to make transport across this continent a reality. Needless to say, I was immersed in thought for quite some time.

My final reflective point is this, with respect to the Golden Spike: just as a golden rail spike forged a connection between two oceans worlds apart, so my memories and experiences will be the Golden Spike that links my two worlds of Portland and Utah. But my Golden Spike will not be sitting in a museum collecting dust.

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