Monday, February 16, 2015
The last time I found myself at a doorway like this, I was in my mid thirties and leaving a church, a marriage, a home I had believed I would spend the rest of my life in. The transition from the protected and enclosed safety of life bounded by the Word of God as understood by his prophet, Harold, into a world I had been taught was full of Satan's stumbling blocks, was terrifying. I left The Body believing I was leaving God behind, too, but feeling like I had no other choice. If I was breaking vows by walking away, God had broken with me first by allowing my husband to withhold parenthood from me.
In the nearly three decades since, I've created a life. Without really understanding what I was doing, it was a life that provided a near-perfect environment for healing. It was a life of safe respectability: teaching, a sweet and loving husband, golden retrievers, a home in the country, friends, and even reconciliation with my family of origin. A good life. Within the nest of that life I began the very hard work of excavating buried pain and wounds. I got sober. I gave my trust to a gifted counselor. I felt and dug, and felt and dug, and all the while learned to love. And forgive. And I healed.
Now I find myself on the threshold of yet another of life's transitions. I am 260 school days away from retirement - a year and a half in real time. This time I have the chance to walk into the light of a new adventure free from the weight of unfinished business.
It's been a month since our meeting with the financial guy who showed us how I could leave teaching comfortably at the end of next year. In that time I've gone from a state of giddy and grateful euphoria, to realizing that I still need to live all the days until a year from this June. That means accepting that regardless of how much I might be able to let go of because I'm no longer building a career, I'm still teaching, and teaching is still heartbreakingly hard. Besides, I absolutely do not want to wish away any part of my life. So I'm in the process of settling myself down and refocusing on the days before me.
That said, every day I think about what life will be like next. It feels like one final gift of unlimited possibility, and I don't want to waste that. I've always thought I would just move from teaching to something else that mattered. Some way to contribute to life that justified my place here. As I've interviewed friends who retired before me, I searched for ways they find meaning in their lives beyond career. The answers to those questions are as varied as my friends. The one common element is aging, and the reduced energy and cognitive function that is an inevitable product. That and the fact that we all know that the next big door is death, beyond which we take nothing but what really matters.
We make choices at this time of life aware that there are not decades ahead for second chances. And somehow in all of that, it's finally okay to focus on the inner voice that has all along been telling us that we matter enough to simply live. I see my friends make choices based on what feels right, or what they feel like doing in the moment. No longer driven by family or work expectations, or the need to look a certain way, or compelled to accomplish certain things.
My list of things I've always thought I wanted to do in retirement is long, and not all that unique: gardening, decluttering, painting my house, travel, volunteer work, reading, hiking, walking, learning, writing. Busy. Meaningful. Contributing in some way. I will probably do all of those things, but there is a niggle in the back of my mind that's telling me those don't matter.
I'm just beginning to understand I don't have to know what will matter until I get there. My job for now is to embrace the gifts of the moments right in front of me. If I'm a little more relaxed because I can see a new horizon, I think that's okay. But if I focus entirely on that horizon, I'm going to miss some great scenery along the way.
A year ago, during a time when the door of retirement felt like an illusion, I decided to create a door I could walk through now. The result of that decision is a two week trip to Italy, starting April 4, seven weeks from now. I am about to see with my own eyes sights first encountered in the National Geographics of my childhood and carried with longing in my heart since. If I am one of the unlucky who don't make it to their dreamed-of retirement, I won't have put everything off until then.
All my paths and all the doors I've walked through to this point have brought me to this: I am a world traveler. I have rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I have choices enough for several lifetimes. I am rich. I am healthy. I am loved. I love. I have the chance to leave teaching at the top of my game. Not as defined by the new evaluation system or test scores, but by the faces of the children I see every day. And by the small still voice of my heart.
While I don't know exactly what comes next, I do know I have done everything in my power to be as ready for it as I can. Better, I'm not waiting for next, even as I prepare for it. Today the sun shines. I'm home. With choices. And oh so much gratitude for the gifts of each unfurling moment as I make my way toward that next doorway.