Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sakura Petals

Tiny pink moments
Pass gently before our eyes
Some endings are also beginnings

It's that time of year again... the time of year where my students write haiku for my Humanities and English classes. Following the advice of one of my mentors, I intentionally de-emphasize the syllable-counting aspect of haiku writing (as you can see demonstrated above). Even for masters of Japanese Haiku, the 5-7-5 scheme is a fairly sophisticated rule to follow and one that a haiku writer is not expected to master immediately.

Factor in just how messy and imprecise syllables in English can be (especially when compared to the crisp precision of Japanese syllables) and... well it just makes sense to put more teaching energy into other, more important components of what makes a haiku...

So instead, I encourage the students to focus their haiku around a main "ku" or idea, utilize "kigo" or words that evoke a particular season or sense, and include one line that serves as "kireji"; a cutting line that is different (either structurally or tonally) from the other two. As long as they keep each line relatively simple (no run-on sentences), the length and syllable count do not matter.

Some students (they could choose) will put these skills into use as they write a haiku for each chapter of the book "Obasan", and eventually make a creative visual haiku that will be on display in the school's atrium.

It feels as though I just went through this unit with the class of 2012. The memories are still so fresh. I wonder if those Spring months of 2011 will always feel that way to me, even years from now.

As it is, the Senior class of 2012 is less than two months away from being alumni, and a new group of seniors will take their place at the top of the CAJ food chain. The class of 2013 has already elected their Senior council for next year. My first thought, as I looked over the list, was "What a good group of leaders--they'll do a fine job."

My second thought was jarring: I first met that group and their classmates when they were Middle Schoolers. I consider myself a newbie at CAJ, a new and still inexperienced teacher. Perhaps that is true, relatively speaking, but I've been here long enough to see an entire high school generation go through--the current Seniors were freshmen when I started. For some reason, that wasn't as shocking as the realization that the little (well, some not-so-little) 8th graders who I subbed for and helped to lead a youth group for in 2009 are preparing for their final year of high school. It made my 26 years feel just a little heavier and wearier, I must confess.

It's all so bittersweet. I'm glad to see that class start to think about their Senior year. I'm glad so many are taking the idea of leadership and responsibility seriously as they look ahead. I'm also sad to see the class of 2012 prepare to go. I've written a lot about that group and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I sort of grew up parallel to them. I learned how to be a teacher as they learned how to be high schoolers. In fact, I'd originally planned to leave CAJ after this year (a plan I was fairly committed to up until about the time of the earthquake). For the sake of the comparison, it would've worked perfectly to leave at the same time as the class of '12, but I now realized that I'm called to stay.

Each year, I say "CAJ won't be the same without this Senior class". Each year, I'm right. However, life goes on and different doesn't mean bad... it just means different. Perhaps it's just one of those weird cycles that teachers need to get used to: constantly welcoming a new group, constantly bidding farewell to a familiar group... perfectly and precisely bittersweet.

The Sakura petals are starting to fall from the trees in CAJs plaza: after a brilliant couple of days in full bloom, the rain and the wind are bringing the delicate petals to their inevitable destination on the concrete. Having spent the four years before coming to Japan in Iowa, where the concept of four seasons is as whimsical as the concept of Hobbits, Quidditch or magical wardrobes, I am easily moved and awed by noticeable seasonal transitions.

The falling of the sakura petals is at once so sad and so beautiful. Sad because those days of full bloom are gorgeous and the trees will not look like that again for a whole year. Beautiful because of the graceful exit, with the petals fluttering softly like snowflakes. Sad because the blossoms create an atmosphere of such camaraderie and joy that is unique to the setting of "hanami". Beautiful because the falling petals herald warmer days and the coming of summer, which creates its own atmosphere of camaraderie and joy.

Some endings are also beginnings.

The old has gone, the new has come.

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