I met up with a few university students of religion Tuesday. First Jew they’d ever met. I expected questions about kashrut, Israel, and prayer, but instead found myself deep in theological debate about whether belief or deeds are more important. I’m not sure if it’s the traditional Jewish perspective, but to me, belief is important insofar as it impacts one’s behavior. The Seventh Day Adventist was particularly curious about my understanding of Jesus. At one point I asked her if it was upsetting to sit face-to-face with someone who clearly believed something different from her fundamental worldview, and she answered that she’d rather examine her beliefs as closely as possible. Respect.
She raised Isaiah 53, which is standard Christian proof of prophecy for Jesus in the Old Testament, and which Jews read as a continuation of the metaphor for Israel as servant that’s used in Isaiah up until that point. After returning home, I reread large swathes of Isaiah, and appreciated the meeting’s inspiration of my learning.
That afternoon I ran my high schoolers through a fun, timed writing exercise. As I looked around at their faces, so intent on their papers, a surge of adoration swept me. These kids are so beautiful, so fully expressed as personalities, with such potential for goodness. I don’t think I’ve seen a group so cohesive and yet individual since my own high school class. And, yes, I may be projecting, as you think, but trust me: such a comparison is an honor I would not bestow lightly. After we’d finished the exercise, they kept calling me over when they were meant to be preparing for their exams so I could read their writing. Nothing stirs a teacher so much as a student’s pride and enthusiasm in their work.
Anita told them that next class would be my last. Heads jerked up around the room, expressing a consternation that touched me to my core. What can I say to my students? I’ve written plenty of goodbye and thank you letters to teachers that gave me the world, but how can I explain to these kids how they’ve touched me and how much, how very much, I want them to succeed and be happy?
Today one of my oldest bestest friends comes in from the States. We’re going down to Haugesund tomorrow to spend Shabbat there, and then Stavanger and Preikestolen on Sunday and Monday. I’m looking forward to seeing coastal Norway in all its glory.
While skyping with another friend, he asked me what would be the biggest shock upon returning to the States. He’d been amazed that it was midnight my time and I still didn’t have the light turned on—the light streaming through my window lit my whole room. I responded that I’m not sure. After a year here, I’m no longer certain of what’s Norway and what’s normal. I only know that I find peace here, and beauty, and serenity. And I would very much like to stay.