In a recent article in The Atlantic, Meghan O’Rourke use the phrase “wrapped in the light melancholy of traveling.” In the context of her article and my experience on long solo bicycle tours I took this to mean a feeling of separateness and impermanence. Travelers are primarily observers of other peoples lives. They need to be attuned to their surroundings in order to navigate and feed themselves if nothing else. Whatever their intense immediate experiences, they know they will be moving on in a few days or weeks. They briefly intersect an alien though often interesting and rich culture and then must return to their regular lives. What keeps the melancholy “light” is both enjoyment of the moment(They are traveling after all.) and the freeing circumstance of being away from their home’s familial and societal expectations.
In the same way I feel the light melancholy of teaching. I too, at least at my age, am interacting with a rich alien culture – the culture of the young. As I teach I must be an intense observer of my students. Are they getting it? Are they studying the notes? And we will only be together for a brief ten weeks despite how well we have spent our time and the bonds we have formed. This melancholy is “light” because we having fun learning math and learning about each other. I am always sad at the end of a term. Now this feeling has a name, “The Light Melancholy of Teaching.”