Last Friday, I went out to lunch with a couple of friends, perhaps the last such lunch in a long, long time, or, perhaps, forever. It was a comfortable affair, no issues, no conflicts, just a bit of teasing and a lot of catching up since summers are such scattered affairs. Over the years, lunches like that have been built around talks of love and dissolution, births and deaths, problems and triumphs, and frustrations. There have been tough talks and stupid insults (the latter mostly from me). There have been times when nothing much has been said at all.
But now one of us is leaving, and that will be nowhere more painful than at lunch.
Now, I don't know about where you work, but at our school, lunch is of paramount importance, for students and faculty alike. Sure there are social gatherings and Fantasy Football leagues and all of that, but friendships are formed and sustained during lunch. Out.
Thirty-two years down the road, one of our longstanding traditions is to escape to Ankar's Hoagies during a long day of August meetings or a mid-year in-service or even before the faculty golf tournament, when we played. Why? Because 32 years ago, a couple of vets took me, a brand new teacher, out there for a great sandwich and those killer onion rings, and the pattern stuck, and even though those men are long gone and I will be in a few years, the drive to that restaurant, a decent haul from the gates of the school, will likely continue. Or die.
But lunch out? I don't think it will die as an institution, unless we get an interim head like our sister school did, who banned all faculty from leaving campus during the day. A most misguided decision, I would argue. To understand schooling, you need to understand the balance between time on and time off, by day and by year. To be "all on" in front of a group of students or for a variety of jobs every single day, school employees need time off to recharge the batteries. If that balance is not here, faculty can implode.
You see, there are many theories as to why our friend is moving on, and all of them hold some truth, I'm sure. But the simplest explanation is probably: lunch.
A change in work circumstances for him packed his schedule so much that he could never go to lunch with us, and, at some point, if you can't enjoy the community of a school built on community, you must ask yourself, What's the point? The outside demands of family, children's obligations, church, house, complex relationships make evening and weekend socializing always a bit of a crap shoot, depending on the life stage we are in.
But lunch? Lunch is sacred. Or was. Or should have been. The first thing my lunch regulars and I want to know on early Monday morning is when that week we will go to lunch. The first thing my departing friend and I would do when we got our schedules for the year would be to look for common free lunch periods. Sadly, in recent years, those dried up.
It's funny, isn't it? When a person leaves, you don't feel the whole person gone. Why should you? My pal will be a relatively short drive down the road, a text or email away, a likely frequent visitor in this city. No, what I will miss is my friend in context--coming to terms with a different car parking next to mine each day, walking down to my classroom without the chance to have a 5- minute energy-boosting chat, the lack of commiserations about the daily grind of the modern work life. And lunch.
Or breakfast, since for so many years, breakfast was our lunch, before-school coffee and raisin toast as we, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, "prepare[d] a face to meet the faces that we meet."
The greatest trait a person can have is "conviviality," the enjoyment of eating and drinking with friends. Contained in that one trait is the acceptance of all of our foolishness, our lies and half-truths, our petty jealousies and self-serving natures. It is the grace to be generous to people whether you like them or not, to acknowledge that in spite of our human weaknesses, common experiences are better shared. That's what lunch was about. And that's what you have, my friend, in spades. A bientot, j'espere.