Today I said goodbye to Kamikaifu Elementary, my very favorite school in Murakami. Over the past year, I have visited the school 17 times. This is far less than any other school, but it only has 41 students. The school was comprehensible, and friendly. The staff talked to me about interesting things. No one ever forgot about me during lunchtime. The vice-principal and I basically became a two-man comedy team. The children were exceptionally, astonishingly good. I knew their names. I knew I was appreciated when I visited this school, so I went the extra mile for them. With eight staff and 41 students, my efforts could hardly be diluted. I dressed up as Santa Claus and no one tried to undress me. I dressed up as The White Rabbit and no one tried to tear off my tail. I always felt lucky to come to this school, and I think the students are lucky as well. Huge classes and large grades at large faceless schools turn out average citizens. There are standouts in every group, but somehow the kids at Kamikaifu all stood out. It’s hard to explain.
It’s quite hard for me to really smile. It’s quite hard for me to really cry. I relish a good cry, because it’s like a rare treat that I cannot willfully order. Today I came pretty close. At the end of the 1st and 2nd grade class, I sat down and told them thank you, how much fun I had with them, and that they please do their best after I leave. They had a gift for me, a yearlong calendar, starting in August. There are 12 students in the combined class – six first grade and six second grade. Each student drew a picture for one month of the year. I almost melted when I realized the simple significance. The 3rd and 4th graders sang me a song. It put me in the mood that popular dramas like Lost and the House M.D. do during the closing montage, in which a popular song wafts loudly through crossfades of the characters’ dramatic circumstances. It was like watching a movie, all of the happy, lively, intelligent young faces that have really brightened my day so many times right there in front of me to reflect on for three whole minutes.
I came to realize today that the Goodbye has a bad name. Unfairly so. A well done, proper Goodbye at the right moment can be fulfilling and rewarding. A Goodbye is a testament to the effort invested in a relationship, in a community, in a friend. I will have many more to do in the next 20 days; some will be labored, some will be awkward, some will be a relief. But my last day at Kamikaifu makes up for any of that.