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  • The days before the start of a school year are filled with anticipation and promise. For a long time I told people that one of the real benefits of working in a school were the distinct beginnings and the definite ends. Closure and an annual opportunity for redemption. Every year a chance to start over and get it right.

    But it means you’re always starting over, said Claire as we sat on the porch and considered the end of my summer. The last, late sunshine poured through the spruce all golden and soft.

    Funny how you can be so sure of something and then one small seed of doubt and the certainty slips away like the sand under your feet as the waves sweep in.

    Always starting over. Always at the beginning again. Shit, a life sentence.

    I rocked a moment on the porch. Poured another glass of wine. Watched the smoke swirl from under the cover where the salmon slowly cooked.

    I thought about the years I worked as a builder. What beginning meant then.

    First, with string and level. Sighting. Measuring and adjusting. Measuring again. Shifting string over empty space to square and align perfectly.

    Then, digging deep to get below the frost line. Setting forms for footings and marking fill lines with finish nails so the distance up will be an even multiple of block.

    Finally, the block emerged above grade. Square. Plumb.

    From the solid footing, rooted, the foundation rose slowly out of the ground.

    And when the columns stood proud and straight and aligned, filling it all back in so, like ranks of ordered icebergs, only the tops remained.

    People stopped by then, looked over the site and asked, “So, Ben, when are you going to start?”

    This morning, with Orion late winter brilliant and upside down in the breathless chill of early morning. I thought how this school year 25% or more of the kids and families will be new to the school. New to South Africa. Thought of the kids and families who left in June and are now scattered across the globe. Some waking and greeting the day. Some yawning and bound for bed.

    Remembered their first days. New to the school, new to South Africa. How some stood behind their parents. Looked down, away. How we built them up. How they hugged me their last day when they said good bye. How they walked away and waved as bus and car pulled away for the last time. Waved and looked back, then turned and looked ahead.

    Maybe in the education business foundations go with. Maybe we aren’t starting over so much as building on and up.

    I sipped coffee in the dark and smiled.

    School starts next week.
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