53 + 6: Firsts, Lasts, and Yet to Be

I once heard of a woman who crowd-sourced her decision about the changes she was considering for her life.  I don’t know that I’m ready to do that, but I am determined to stop capitulating and focus.  Is it age that’s making it so much more challenging to focus than in the past?  Or is it evidence that I really haven’t hit on the right thing?  What has come over me that’s making me lose momentum and focus on ideas?   This is soooooooo unlike me.

I guess the first thing I need to do is stop comparing the past to now, and stop trying to predict the future.   But how many times have I heard that we’re put on this earth to do one thing.  One thing that no one else can do. Can that really be true? Maybe it was true in a time when people’s lives were shorter.   I mean, if people didn’t have as many years to live, society could only conclude (assume) that people lived and died pursuing one purpose in a lifetime.  Maybe it’s as much of a passing notion as the romantic notion that we are meant only to love one perfectly matched person.

I’m 53 and six weeks old.  What if I did my one thing when my daughter was born? (That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  I love being her mom.)  What if I did my one thing when I enjoyed success as a professional chef?  (I miss being an entrepreneur.)  What if I’ve also used up my one opportunity for romantic love? (See week 3)

Do I want to return to doing things I’ve done in the past?  (You can never really go back.)  Do I want to pursue unlived desires?  (Move to a favorite part of the city.)  Do I want to do something entirely different for a career?  (Am I too old to change again?)  Am I already doing what I was put on this earth to do?  (How can I be sure…if I were, wouldn’t I feel more settled, self-confident, or content?)

If personal reinvention is the new midlife crisis then it’s possible we’re actually entitled to have more than one “once in a lifetime”…

Right now every idea sounds like a good idea.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I seem to have a lot of good ideas – or rather I have a lot of different people telling me, “Wow!  That’s a great idea.  You should do it!”  The problem is while it’s fun to imagine and even sketch out logistics about ideas, I generally know they are not THE idea that’s going to jazz me for the next 20 years or more.  How do I know this?  Do I really know this or have I turned into one of “those people” who will spend the rest of her life spewing great ideas but never actually taking the risk to make them happen?  Arrrrrrrggggggh!

I’m perplexed (and more than a little frustrated) with my lack of clarity.  I’m waiting for that undefinable, unaware, subconscious moment when something entirely unknown crosses my path and I’m overtaken by an immediate and unexplainable movement in its direction.  This happened to me the day I enrolled in culinary school, and cooking was magical from that moment until I left it all behind.  Does anyone know what I’m talking about?  Looking back to my late twenties and early thirties, did I really, actually know culinary school and catering were “good ideas”?  No way…I had never even considered cooking as a career before that, much less as an educational pursuit.  I mean, it did end up being a great idea – a really great idea –  and I happily spent many years immersed in passionate pursuit of culinary and proprietary excellence.  It was fun!  It was a joyful way to earn a living – at least for the most part.  I was certainly driven, or “on fire” as spiritualists would say.  There were times of stress or pressure, but it was all done in the pursuit of excellence – an excellence I felt I could attain with the right determination and attention to detail.  Every meal or event served was evidence of moving forward, completing, cleaning up, reorganizing,  and moving on to create the next special experience.   I loved that.  I love crossing things off a list.  I love the feeling of making progress. I love the feeling that comes from attaining and accomplishing a vision, a goal.  Doing so gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of fulfillment.

So maybe it does only happen to people once in a lifetime and maybe I squandered my “once in a lifetime.”

Clearly I must think of this another way:

  • There are things that I once enjoyed doing, but no longer have the energy (interest?) to do. Counted cross-stich falls into this category. So does cleaning house, but I have to rally all of my resources on that one regardless.  Hospice volunteering.  Cooking.  Baking.
  • There are things that I once loved doing, and fantasize about doing again. Playing piano or taking ballet lessons fall into this category.  Gardening may be edging its way into this category.  Hospice volunteering. Sitting meditation.
  • There are things I think about doing / becoming that I know are (and will always be) wishful thinking. Being fluent and literate in another language.  Traveling to a country in Africa – any country in Africa.  Owning a bed and breakfast.
  • There are things I’ve thought about doing / creating at some point in my life that other people are now doing / creating, which leaves me wondering why I didn’t act on it when I thought of it. Why does this happen?  Specifically, Fried Oatmeal, Oatmeal for Every Meal, PieFive, Naked Cakes, Never Eat Alone, Pop-up dinners.  Getting a certificate in Spiritual Direction…the list goes on and on and on.
  • There are things I’ve thought about doing in the last three years – and even pursued briefly – but which have not held my interest or focus. Why is that?  Turning my backyard into an organic flower garden every summer and selling organic flower arrangements with delivery service.  Naked Cakes.  Junk Mail.  Cupcakes and cookies. Digital literacy initiatives for parents.
  • There are things I think I should do because they would be “good for me” according to society at large. I would have to say that in some cases – like learning Spanish – it is true that I could benefit from (or certainly be of benefit to others by) learning to speak Spanish.  Ideas in this category generally weigh heavily on my mind and are ones I just never seem to set aside the time to make happen precisely because I think I know how hard they would be to succeed at.  And things in this category are also the things I tend to beat myself up about for not actually doing  – especially when I’m in situations where I see plenty of other people attempting and succeeding at them.  I have actually made sporadic attempts to master things in this category, but have not actually prioritized and focused on them enough to make them happen.  Why is that?  These things include finalizing the edits of and publishing The Land of Enough, submitting more of my poetry for publication, learning to read, write, and converse in Spanish, creating a killer LinkedIn profile, improving my understanding of personal finance, getting even more education credentials so I can teach [fill in the blank].
  • There are things I wish I could do (or still do) that are impossible for one reason or another. (Have my summers off.  Take a gap year.  Downward facing dog.  Play the piano.)

I am trying to get out of my comfort zone in small ways recently, as if sort of dipping my toe (but only my big toe) in the well of self-confidence and clearing the ground for new beginnings.

Last weekend I walked my first ever charity race/walk:

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I took a stellar, spontaneous phone photo (if I say so myself).

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I went an entire day without eating chocolate except for the teaspoon of cocoa in my morning oatmeal.  Anyone who knows me well, knows this represents a major exhibit of self-control.

I shredded a lot of old documents bearing my married name, which I had legally removed many years ago. (Cleansing!)

I delivered some anonymous gifts to school kids.  (I can’t write down the details or it wouldn’t be anonymous any longer.)

I wrote a handwritten letter to a friend and snail-mailed it.  Yes, an actual handwritten letter with postage stamps.

And maybe I’m not the slacker I think I am…at 53+6 I actually did accomplish something in my category of “things I no longer have the energy to do”… I cleaned my entire house.

It is the mind reacting with ignorance, craving, or revulsion that produces the sense of dissatisfaction.” Sangharakshita, Living with Kindness, page 62

53 + 5: Confusion to Clarity

This evening I set out across town to attend a seminar.  I arrived on campus with what should have been plenty of time to spare.  After wandering around for a good six or seven minutes I finally succumbed to asking for help from the first person inside a nearby open office.  It wasn’t until I read aloud the title of the workshop from my handheld that I felt the full magnitude of what had to be a Cosmic message if not a message of cosmic proportions.  The title of the workshop –  ‘Confusion to Clarity’ – which I stated to my rescuer with an audible air of embarrassment.  Turns out the seminar was at 7:30 a.m. not 7:30 p.m.

Back at home I’m pondering the larger implications of just how “confusion to clarity” relates to being 53, and trying not to over-lament the loss of my $20 registration fee.

It would be a serious understatement to say that I have not been on my game lately.  Nothing’s wrong but neither is everything right.  Sara Maitland writes of her extraordinary journey of living in silence,

“I found the necessary monitoring of myself tiring and at times irritating; I was often amazed at the gap between my desires and my actions.  But underneath all that I knew I was learning and growing in silence, and I was excited.” 

(A Book of Silence, p 115, emphasis added)

In my periods of silence this week I came to an important distinction about being 53 – I realized I don’t have a vision for the next chapter of my life.  I’m sort of hanging out here in limbo.  William Bridges, PhD, calls it “the neutral zone” in his book, Transitions.  And with the kind guidance of Mathias Jakobsen I’m able to illustrate what it feels like to be 53 using Paper 53.  (Thanks Mathias!)  Please don’t judge me by my rudimentary illustrations.

Being 53 - 2-2

I want to reinvent myself, but unlike previous career and life-stage reinventions I don’t have an image of what I’m reinventing myself as or toward.  At various times in the past I’ve had very specific dreams in mind – being a professional chef, being a mom, being married, being a graduate student, even being a teacher.  Those dreams were largely related to a “dream job” or a career path, but I don’t have a dream job in mind at the moment.  Only a growing awareness that the job I do have (or the organization) may not be the right fit.  Part of this uncertainty is due largely to the fact that I don’t even know what sort of dream jobs are available in the shift toward an expanding population of knowledge workers.

In the current version of my dream life, by now I had planned to live in modest, worry-free self-sufficiency while staying healthy and growing old.   I do live in modest self-sufficiency, am relatively healthy despite some aches and pains that hint at a less-limber body, and much of my life is (or should be) worry-free compared to so many folks I encounter.  I’m definitely “growing older” as life provides that opportunity naturally, but at 53 I’m far from being old in the new landscape of living longer.

In his book, Quitter, Jon Acuff writes,

“We get really drunk on the idea of what might be.  We ignore what already is.”  (p 27) 

Hmmmm….confusion to clarity.  Maybe in my attempts to create “what might be” I’m overlooking the aspects of my life that already are very close to what could be.

The uncertainty of whether my dissatisfaction is related to work or mid-life makes it a challenge to hold the tension without making a false beginning in the wrong direction.  On the other hand, I’m tired of holding the tension.  I have fantasies about taking a “gap year” to do [unknown].  I know, I know…

“Quitting a day job doesn’t jump-start a dream because dreams take planning, purpose and progress to succeed.”  (Acuff, p 24, Quitter)

For example it took Sara Maitland three years to finally make her dream life of silence a reality.  Yet she made the planning into an adventure,

“Over the next three years I joyfully explored how I might create a sustainable lifestyle that would contain as much silence as possible.”  (A Book of Silence, p 116)

As someone who derives a strong sense of personal satisfaction from doing meaningful work, it occurs to me that if I can imagine my dream life then the dream job is a sort of given, isn’t it?  Confusion to clarity…clarity will come.  I just need to persist at making time and space for it in the classroom within.

53 + 4 weeks: Is a path beginning to emerge?

I once read that you often have to follow a path for a ways before you can determine if it’s the right path.  Truth is I’m feeling overwhelmed of late because lately every idea sounds like a good idea.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I seem to have a lot of good ideas – or rather I have a lot of different people telling me, “Wow!  That’s a great idea.  You should do it!”  The problem is while it’s fun to imagine and even sketch out logistics about ideas, in many cases I already know they are not THE idea that’s going to jazz me for the next 20 years.  Do I really know this or have I turned into one of “those people” who will spend the rest of her life spewing great ideas but never actually taking the risk to make them happen?  Arrrrrrrggggggh!

On one hand I’m already disgusted with myself for capitulating on the Vermont thing.  On the other hand I’m waiting for that undefinable, subconscious moment when something entirely unknown crosses my path and I’m overtaken by an immediate and unexplainable movement in its direction.  Does anyone know what I’m talking about?  It’s entirely unpredictable and there doesn’t seem to be any way to prepare for it.

It happened to me two other times in my life.  Maybe it only happens to people once in a lifetime, and I’ve already been extraordinarily lucky to have it happen twice.  Have I squandered by “once in a lifetimes” or am I like some super incredible cat who gets nine lives?

Maybe it’s just a creative block.  I am ready to unhinge whatever this is that’s making me lose momentum and focus on my ideas.  I’m guessing the first thing I need to to is stop comparing the past to now and the future.  How many times have I heard that we’re put on this earth to do one thing.  One thing that no one else can do.  Really?

I’m 53 and four weeks old.  What if I did my one thing when I was 28 or 39, and tossed it away?  Do I want to go back?  (You can never go back.)  Do I want to do something entirely different now?  (Is there really any such thing as entirely different?)  Do I want to reinvent myself in the field I’m in now?  But wait…if personal reinvention is the new “midlife crisis” then that means maybe we’re actually entitled to have more than one “once in a lifetime”…

Regrettably not every opportunity (no matter how great) is the right opportunity.  I made a decision to opt out of UVM.  (Sigh of relief followed by anxiety bordering on mild depression about where that left me in terms of a plan.)  Lo and behold, I get check email this afternoon and an invitation to a symposium in Spain was waiting for me.  I thought the submissions committee had passed on my proposal, but now here it was.  If I’d spent that money on a trip to Vermont I’d probably hesitated more about spending money on a plane ticket to Spain.  But I didn’t hesitate to reply yes!  After all, I have 4 months to figure out finances.  This will work out.

Am I seeing a pattern beginning to emerge out of all these opportunities? Jung called “meaningful coincidences” synchronicity.  In addition to completing the international educator exchange program in the Netherlands next month, I’ve also been invited to the 2016 National Writing Project’s summer institute with full tuition.  And in Spain I’ll be presenting on the model I developed for teaching narrative writing to low-literacy adult ELLs.

Of course, Pasteur said “chance favors the prepared mind.” While considering which opportunities were the right opportunities, I realized that when applying to UVM I underestimated my level of commitment to helping preliterate and emerging bilingual adults write their stories in English. Enabling my students to communicate their life stories to readers of an English-dominant society empowers my students while increasing everyone’s understanding of self and world.  These stories contribute to concepts of social justice, which in turn drives social change.  I could write about social justice as a researcher at UVM, but I can do the work of social justice as a teacher.

Perhaps writing or teaching writing is in my future in greater measures.  Time will tell.

 

53 + 3: The Insidious Side of Hope

I was entirely unprepared when my husband stated that he wanted a divorce.   As unimaginable as it was at the time, it is equally unimaginable to me that over a decade has passed since then. Twelve years ago to be more precise, fourteen if I count the two years we were separated beforehand.  Most days it’s difficult for me to even remember ever being married at all.  At the time I didn’t think I would ever escape, much less survive, the devastation.

Time was unconsciously marked by transitions that ping-ponged from frustration to hurt, anger, and acceptance.  It took a very long time to land on acceptance permanently.  Although acceptance never entirely erased the grief or emptiness that still surfaces on occasion.   I often thought it would have been less painful if he’d died, but having witnessed friends process the death of a spouse I find it doubtful that their grief is any less nor any less persistent.  The difference for me was coming to terms with loss as an abandonment of choice imposed by a person I loved rather than an unforeseeable abandonment imposed by the involuntariness of death.

Twelve…fourteen years … why am I thinking about this part of my past now?  I have a good life, supportive friends, a close-knit relationship with my daughter and son-in-law, a viable career, and a space I call home.  I’m free to pursue hobbies, studies, and friendships that interest me.

Is the idea of being 53 solely responsible for the malaise that’s been hovering around me in recent months?  Am I having a mid-life crisis?   Or now that people are living longer, am I having a crisis of personal reinvention?

How much is this underlying angst contributing to my sudden application to a university more than thirteen hundred miles away?  I notice that typing the words EdD and University of Vermont in one sentence feel like a hollow pursuit meant to impress rather than empassion.  But who am I even trying to impress?  What do I really want?  What am I passionate about, if anything?  The fact that I’m begrudging the travel costs of making a campus visit are indicative of my misgivings.  Why am I so unsettled about even traveling to Vermont for a campus visit?  I once read a quote something to the effect that “It’s never about what it’s really about.”  I have a sense that my application – much less my indecision about the letter of acceptance – is less about a pursuing a doctorate (at UVM or anywhere) than it is about something else.  But what?

A book I’ve read, earmarked, and annotated more times than I can remember since my first reading in 2003 is “Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by William Bridges, PhD.   I pulled the book out of my permanent bedside stack of most-meaningful books and began rereading it.  Although there are few such passages remaining, I found one I’d not marked before,

The problem is not that we don’t want to give up a job or a relationship, or that we can’t let go of of our identity or our reality; the problem is that before we can find a new something, we must deal with a time of nothing.  And that prospect awakens old fears and all the old fantasies about death and abandonment.”  (Bridges, p 104)

I sit with this.  Examine it.  Meditate.  Annotate.  Ruminate.  I don’t think my current state of flux has anything to do with a divorce that happened twelve years ago, but I do think it has something to with what I told myself more than twelve years ago.  Deep breath.

Circa 2002.  I’m sitting in a local bagel shop having coffee with a female acquaintance.  She is trying to reassure me that, like her, I would eventually move past the grief I was feeling from the separation and eventual divorce.  She tells me that ten years after her divorce she had moved away and was working on her doctorate.  One day while walking across campus she and her ex-husband crossed paths.  Neither of them knew the other was on campus, and he was actually only there for a business meeting.  They struck up a conversation.  The chance meeting breathed air onto whatever ember remained of their relationship.  Eventually, they reunited.  I think I internalized that story because it gave me a sense of hope at a time when I needed it in order to process that a future without my husband – without our complete family unit –  did not have to be permanent.

Of course, for the first year or two of our separation I hoped he and I could work things out and reunite.  When “Divorced” officially became a box I checked on applications, I found acceptance in the idea that because I really loved him and wanted him to be happy, I could go through with it for his sake.  But somewhere inside I had created a ten-year vision because the seed of hope had been planted over a seemingly innocent cup of coffee.

A year later our daughter delivered the message that he was getting married to another woman in the house the three of us had once lived in as a family. I convinced myself that he was trying to relive the life we’d once had.  Weird, I know.   A minor bump in my ten-year vision.  After all, he might realize the enchantment he was under, eventually leave her, and somehow we’d miraculously cross paths and reunite.  That didn’t happen.

The following year, he sent our daughter to deliver a wound of exponential depth.  My mind’s eye holds a freeze-framed image of sitting with my daughter in our Honda Passport on a frigid Omaha winter night in the parking lot of my apartment building.  She gets up the nerve to tell me her step-mother is pregnant.  Before I can stop it, a deep, guttural, soul-wrenching howl erupts from my mouth.  I have actually just howled in the only way a wounded animal has to express the most extreme pain.  We don’t discuss it.  I shake it off.  I’ve been delivered a blow, but unbeknown to her I will simply have to come to terms with the idea that my private hope of a ten-year plan has just been extended to a fifteen- or twenty-year hope.

But this ten-year plan became so tangible that I consciously or unconsciously shaped myself and my life around it.  I obtained multiple degrees; I no longer feel uneducated in his presence.  I travel inside and outside the U.S.; I am not afraid or unable to travel the world alone.  I can be self-sufficient as a travel partner.  I am highly responsible with finances, provide for myself, and live undependent on anyone – all things I felt I needed to prove to him that I could do. Unlike the miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin, I would spin the hay into gold myself.  Not only proving that he’d underestimated me, but he would have no choice but to acknowledge the self-made woman I’d become.  I imagine myself achieving some things he never even imagined me doing.  I might be wounded, I might lose hope occasionally, I might have days where I have to push myself to accomplish a previously inconceivable undertaking, but I do not give up hope.  In my ten-year plan we would somehow stumble upon each other and he would be impressed that he had underestimated me in so many ways.

I date, attempt to fall in love, but I can never fully abandon myself to a romantic partnership again.  I’ve hurt some very kind, wonderful men.  Not intentionally or consciously, because I would go for longer and longer periods of forgetting my ten-year plan.  I actually thought I’d forgotten it until now.  On rare occasions it would resurfaces when our daughter would share some random news of his marriage, the birth of their daughter, their relationship struggles, his infidelity, and eventually their divorce.  I didn’t solicit this news, but the stories came filtered through mother-daughter conversations whose tone vacillated between disbelief and recognition.  I’d trained myself not to ask questions, but neither did I refuse to listen to evidence that would fan tendrils hope.

Fourteen years, six months later he and I do encounter each other in the unplanned way only death and funerals can initiate.  That is to say, our meeting was unplanned if not entirely unexpected.  It is his father’s funeral.  I grieve for his family, I grieve for him, I grieve for us, and I grieve for the passage of time.  I grieve all over again for the abrupt ending to the relationships that were severed with so many of the people I see at the funeral.  My grief is fresh and it is old all at the same time.  My father is buried within walking distance from where his father will be interred.  After the service for his father, he visits my dad’s grave site with me for the first time since his burial ten years ago.  It’s overcast, the Kansas wind blows and carries the end-of-winter chill that serves to remind me that no matter how strong my desire for spring, nature will decide when it will arrive.  I don’t think of it at the time, but maybe the wind is trying to force me into wakefulness.  He and I wear winter coats but they are not nearly enough to stave off the cold.  I put my arm through his and we lock arms naturally, huddled against the common element of the wind and our individual grief.  I tell him that I will most likely always be mad at him, but that I will also most likely always love him.  He mumbles, “I know.”  I feel the familiarity of how my body still fits next to his as it did for the almost twenty years we were married.  I feel the lotion-like softness of his black, cashmere coat as my unprotected hand holds the sleeve.  The wind pushes us closer together.   And even though my words might be ones I’ve longed to say as part of a hope I could not bear to extinguish all these years, I also know I must come to terms with the reality that there is and never was a ten-year plan in his mind.  We reach the car and once inside he surprises me by saying that he thinks he was too imposing, too strong in his opinions to have been healthy for me.  I shrug, uncertain what to say.  There is the briefest pause before he starts the car.  I try to explain that I learned things from him I might never have learned on my own.  I’m desperate to say more, to say all the apologies I’ve bottled up inside of me for so long, to comfort him, to forgive him, and to be forgiven.  It’s one of the most difficult moments of my life to not say anything more; I only have the wherewithal to look out the window as he puts the car in drive.  This is not the time or the place.  Out of the blue, he tells me I have class.  I say nothing.  He delivers me to my parked car.

He already knows I will not go to his family home after the funeral.  His other ex-wife will be there.  And although I harbor no resentment for her and even have familial love for their daughter, oddly his now-ex-wife has resented me and my daughter to the extent of hatred since before they were married.  Instead I will go on with my day and evening alone, while he gathers with our daughter and his families.  I will process my grief alone just as I have so many times in the past.  On this particular day I don’t yet realize that I will also start grieving the reality that I must now give up the ten year hope that carried me through more than a decade.  I will not compromise his relationship with his younger daughter, and I know that the mother will stop at very little to use the daughter as a source of control over a man she no longer (if ever) imagined spending a lifetime with.  I know I cannot put him in a position to choose.  On this particular day when death and grief and endings swirl around me like the piercing wind that momentarily brought us arm in arm, I realize it is also time to extinguish this false hope of reconcilation.  I can no longer plan my life around a fairy-tale ending.  I must finally accept what is.  I must also consider that hope can be a dangerous thing.

 

I feel like the survivors Viktor Frankel wrote of who kept hope alive despite the hardships of life in the concentration camps.  They survived their circumstances by the hope of being reunited with family members after rescue, by the hope of reuniting with them at houses where they’d once lived together as families, by the hope of resuming and recapturing lives that were freeze-framed in the theater of their minds.  Long years of hope that enabled them to survive – although not blindly accept –  the circumstances of their lives.  Frankel wrote that the hope of surviving the harshness of the camps had actually proven less psychologically damaging to individuals who, upon release, returned to villages and homes only to find that houses had been leveled, possessions destroyed, and spouses and family members killed.  The extinguishment of hope due to irrefutable evidence of reality once outside the camp proved more devastating than the hopes they had held onto during their separation.  In other words, the hope that had sustained them must now be replaced with reality.

Certainly I do not have the right to compare surviving divorce to surviving life in a concentration camp.  Nor is that my point, my point is that hope – whatever it is based on and from whatever circumstance it comes has an insidious side.  In “Man’s Search for Meaning” Frankel writes:

“When we spoke about attempts to give a man in camp mental courage, we said that he had to be shown something to look forward to in the future.  He had to be reminded that life still waited for him, that a human being waited for his return.  But after liberation?  There were some men who found that no one awaited them.  Woe to him who found that the person whose memory alone had given him courage in camp did not exist any more!  Woe to him who, when the day of his dreams finally came, found it so different from all he had longed for!  Perhaps he boarded a trolley, traveled out to the home which he had seen for years in his mind, and only in his mind, and pressed the bell, just as he had longed to do in thousands of dreams, only to find that the person who should open the door was not there, and would never be there again.” (Frankel, p 114)

“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love.  When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.  A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.  He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” (Frankel, p 100-101)

I don’t think UVM is my “why.”  I don’t think UVM is where my passion lives.  I don’t yet have a new story to replace the hope I based my story on for the past decade.  I don’t yet have a new beginning.  I’m trying to find my “why.”  I am in “the time of nothing” as Bridges has named it.

I am certain of one thing – it is necessary to resist the temptation to act on an opportunity, no matter how great in appearance, simply for the sake of acting.  I am 53.  Extract the melodrama of that idea from the reality of it, and it is this – 53 imposes a constriction of time that being 35 did not.

“Resist the temptation to ‘do something – anything’…the transition process requires that we discover whatever we need to learn for the next step we are going to take.”  (Bridges, p 79)

Time will tell.

 

 

53 + 2 weeks

53 + 2 weeks. I am no closer to knowing what I was put on this earth to do than when I was younger.  The biggest difference between now and when then is that I never considered that there might be some singular reason I as put on this earth.  Is that even probable?

A close friend gave me two bottles of face cream for my birthday.  I wonder if she was trying to tell me something about how old I’m starting to look.  People no longer remark, “NO way!”  when I tell them I have an adult daughter.  I always thought I’d grow old gracefully and with style.  And I guess in my mind that meant wrinkle-free.

I subbed for a teaching colleague this week.  K’s mother died.  I needed to explain to her students why K was absent.  I used Google images to explain death, funerals, and sympathy cards.  I modeled what to write inside a sympathy card when someone loses a parent.  Everyone made a card and wrote a personal message.  With every intention of perfection, these caring and loving adults, spent 25 minutes creating cards.  Some shyly asked me to check spelling or their message for cultural appropriateness.  Perhaps the first time these folks had ever had to offer words of consolation in English?  I would be no better equipped to say or do the correct things if I were visiting their countries.  The loss of a family member – especially a parent – clearly feels the same in any language.

One of K’s students is an elderly man.  He sits on the front row.  We’re studying English words for different jobs, and I’m explaining what it means to ask someone, “What do you do?” as opposed to, “What did you do?”  When I show the class photos of doctors and nurses, and ask how they can tell the difference they confidently make motions around their necks and shoulders indicating that a stethoscope hangs from a doctor’s neck.  When I press them for the English word for the qualifying item, they exchange bewildered looks with each other.  I don’t wish to provide the word.  “Use your translators.  Use Your picture dictionary.”  “You can find it.”  Finding the word is only half the challenge – pronouncing it presents its own difficulty.  The Spanish-speakers have a bit of a leg up on this one: “Estetoscopio!”, they say with more wonder than definitiveness.  “Close, ” I say, “It’s ‘stethoscope’, in English.”  Until this moment, the older gentleman in the front row has sat in silence in that way that is so unique to the elderly.  When he hears the words for stethoscope he smiles and for the first time since class began, looks up from his paper. Quietly, and with dignity and gravitas he says, “Doctor.”  Many students excitedly tell me that N is indeed a doctor.  It never ceases to amaze me how one, single recognizable word can transform our desire to communicate or provide someone with the ability to communicate.  How one word can draw others in to a circle, and invite another into participation.

Students continue to talk about the photos and English words for the unit.  I wait for the women in the room to notice the photo of the mom with two children and the words “full-time mom.”   We end up talking about motherhood being work.  And that is it just as worthy of being recognized as a “job” as any paid employment.  Those who are stay at home moms repeat, “full-time mom, full-time mom, full-time mom” as if it were a newfound mantra – partially said in wonder, but gaining confidence in the English language and their positions as full-time moms with every repetition.  Smiles grow as if the word itself validates, “I am somebody in English, too.”  Another picture I chose strategically shows a woman cleaning the top of a dining room table.  I wait for the assumption I know most of my students will make.  “Housekeeper,” the women say without batting an eye.  Probably the first English word of the night they’ve come up with without my help. I suggest “homemaker” and we discuss the difference between a “housekeeper” who gets paid to clean and a “homemaker” who doesn’t.  As sea of eye rolls and rueful smiles on nodding heads act as the universal communication of agreement and understanding.

It was a night to remember.