Fresh starts

My grandmother, top left, and her students on the steps of the Old El, around 1930.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

September signals summer’s end, and the arrival of fall. And while it’s hard to leave those beautiful, sunny days behind, autumn offers beauty all her own. Evenings are cooler, mosquitoes disappear, harvesting begins.

The changing seasons are always a reminder of the many endings and beginnings we experience, and how life and time on earth includes many passages, changes, as well as fresh starts.

Most obvious and relevant this time of year is the return to school. Remember the nervous excitement of the new school year? Moving to the next grade? Meeting the new teachers?

The night before, we carefully selected and laid out the 1st-day-of-school outfit. The next morning, freshly scrubbed, we armed ourselves with new crayons, folders, and sharp pencils. We squeezed our summer feet into our school shoes and climbed the steep school bus steps. We were ready. Determined to impress our new teachers. Excited for a fresh start.

I remember in our childhood games, if we really blew a pitch or missed a goal or struck out, we would cry, “Do over!” Most often we were met with a few grumbles and eventual agreement. Occasionally I encouraged some “do overs” as a parent and even in my classroom.

If one of our children responded to a parental request with immediate attitude, I sometimes said, “Okay, I want you to walk out of the room, come back in, and let’s try that again.” Often it was a relief to our children, and it felt like they learned something. Of course, we couldn’t use the “do over” every time, but now and then, opportunity for a fresh start was sometimes allowed.

I used “do overs” on occasion in the classroom, too. “Hey, let’s try that again. And think about how you are talking.” Yup. Usually, a student would tuck his or her head, recognize the behavior or words that needed correcting, and immediately comply, allowing our work and discussions to continue.

And it isn’t just kids that need the opportunity for forgiveness and a fresh start. We all need the chance to try a discussion or activity again, to try a different approach to resolve a conflict or difficult situation, to have a do-over.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that something isn’t working. Changes in life and changes in thinking happen regularly. And just because we’ve shifted direction on a project or change the way we view a situation doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It is really another form of fresh start. Sometimes that might mean adjusting or changing our goals. Or mending a fence or setting new boundaries in a relationship.

A quote by Mary Pickford touches on the importance of starting over. “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for the thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

It’s a Fine Life.

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