The Smell of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

Recently Lisa asked Lydia, “Are you looking forward to school starting in September?” Lydia’s eyes sparkled (more so than usual) as she responded, “Yes. But sometimes…I am so excited I could burst!” (For those who might not know, Lisa is my oldest daughter and Lydia is my six and ¾ year old granddaughter.)

When Lisa told me about this, my heart swelled with memories. From my first day of school (first grade at St. Mary of the Wasatch in Salt Lake City, Utah) to my first day of Graduate School (at Concordia College in Portland Oregon), even to all the “first days” as a teacher, I fondly recall that feeling of being “so excited I could burst!”

That first day at St. Mary of the Wasatch, I remember so clearly…. That’s me, walking up a steep flight of stairs with my mother. With each stair, she stage-whispered (as only mothers can do): “School is NOT for talking! Not one word, but YES, SISTER or NO, SISTER! School is NOT a place to be a chatterbox! Not one word, but YES, SISTER….” That was the longest, steepest staircase I have ever climbed. With every upward step her commands pounded into my impressionable mind. In my heart, I fervently assented.   I didn’t know then the Scripture verse, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Thus began my annual September fever of bright-eyed optimism, of setting my goals high, of “reaching for the moon!” (Just thinking while reminiscing — that first grade goal, to be a quiet, submissive student, was, in fact, the highest and most unreachable goal I have ever set for myself.)

Jump forward fifteen years to the day before the first day of my senior year in college (Marylhurst College in Lake Oswego, Oregon). That’s me, sitting out in the hall by the staircase in front of my dorm room (in Flavia Hall – ah the memories!), scribbling numbers on a note pad.

I am figuring out my cumulative grade-point average to see what I had to do, grade-wise, to graduate Magna Cum Laude. (Sadly, I had no statistical chance of reaching the highest academic honor, Summa Cum Laude, which had been my lofty goal on the first day of my freshman year in College….)

YES. I could do it…I could just reach the required GPA! IF I got an A or A- in two of the subjects I would be taking each semester, and a B+ in the third. And, IF I got an A on my senior thesis. That’s all. Ah, the confidence I had every September!

Now, jump forward thirty-three years to the first day of my first year in Graduate School. I was fifty-four years old and I had learned some things about September beginnings. That’s me, sitting in the parking lot of Concordia College, praying with trepidation, “Lord, this is Your idea, going back to school at my age – at least I think it is. Help me get through the gauntlet of grad school…with a diploma. That’s all, Lord – oh and yes, a license to teach.

That’s how life is. When we are young, we have such high expectations of life, such dreams! And dreams are good. As it has been said, “Reach for the moon! If you miss the moon, you will still land among the stars!” (Just an aside here to prove the point: that senior year in college, I did not graduate Magna Cum Laude. BUT, I did graduate Cum Laude – a goal I wouldn’t have attained had I not been “reaching for the moon.”)

So. Here it is September 1st and my precocious granddaughter awaits her first day of first grade, “bursting” with expectations. And here am I, contemplating the expectations of the September of my life. That’s me, looking up at those mountains we spoke of in my last post (see, Over The Hill…). I am seeking only one “prize” — the smile on the Lord’s face when He says to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

As I look back on my life thus far (just as I did at Marylhurst, when I scrutinized my cumulative grade-point average), I see that my “marks” are pretty low. THANK GOD there is not a “cumulative grade point average” dogging my steps! In this school of life, every day is a new day because “God’s mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22).

Hmm. A new first day of “school.” I can almost smell the freshly sharpened pencils…and I can almost feel the starchy stiffness of the sailor middy blouse…the scratchiness of the woolen navy-blue pleated skirt – the uniform I wore, complete with sailor ribbon tie and blue beanie, at St. Raphael’s Grade School in San Rafael, California. (I loved that uniform!) I can even smell the elusive semi-pleasant odor that emanates from the halls of every school I have ever been in, both as a student and as a teacher.

Oh yes. Even at 74 years old, I am still in school. The School of the Spirit. And it’s September. Time to set goals high, right? Dear readers, whatever your age, join me and set your goals HIGH – let’s not just “reach for the moon” with vague hopes of “landing among the stars.” Let’s reach for the sun! Or should I say, SON.

I know. That sounds nice but what does that mean?   For me, that means doing those things that will help me to “Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Stay tuned. In future posts I hope to share practical tips for growing spiritually – as I learn them. That’s my one of my September goals for this “school year.”


A Few Bits of Trivia (for those who love useless facts)

*Cum What? Translate the Latin, please!

         ~~ Cum Laude = with praise

~~ Magna Cum Laude = with high praise

 ~~ Summa Cum Laude = with highest praise

*For reasons I do not understand, many schools have dumped the laudable Latin (pun intended), and now use the terms honor, high honor, and highest honor. (Non Placet. I do not approve….)

*Norman Vincent Peele is said to have originated the quote, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you will land among the stars.” As my husband would point out, it would NOT have been a good thing had the Apollo 11 astronauts missed the moon and found themselves “among the stars.” That’s the trouble with metaphors. They never quite fit.

*Peele wrote the book, The Power of Positive Thinking. I read that once. And I follow its advice every September….

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2 Responses to The Smell of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

  1. What a great article! I get the same feeling in September–it’s always the time to get to work on something.


    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you, Rebecca. You have no idea how much your words mean to me. You know how it is: we write because we would burst it we didn’t. We don’t write to get nice comments from readers — but OH, don’t they make your day shine brighter?


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