One of my early lessons as a student of taekwondo has stood me well, both inside and outside the kwan (school). As I was struggling to learn the traditions, patterns, and language of the kwan, I looked around me for cues and models, noticing black belts in the same row, taking the same lesson, going through the same patterns. When I asked one of the black belts (who appeared both competent and intimidating) why he was in a class with beginner white belts, his response is one I often share with students: When you achieve the level of black belt proficiency, that signifies you are ready to begin again...at the beginning.
By the time children are ready to leave home, parents are figuring out how to parent. By the time we finish a major work project, we are mastering the skills that would have helped us start. And when we finish a class or course of study, we have the knowledge we needed to begin.
We live our lives simultaneously forward and backward. It's an odd thing to advance in one direction while processing in another; moving forward while understanding backward. It's not that we don't learn and take the wisdom or knowledge with us; we do. But there is something in our make up--something captured in the differing languages of child psychologists and poets, some essentially human ability to think about thinking--that folds time, capturing both past and future in the present.
As each semester ends, I feel competent to begin, wishing I could incorporate what I've just learned into what I've just done. In that way, as in so many others, each semester is--at least for me--a lot like life.