"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

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.


DJan said...

So beautifully written, Deb, as usual. But this one hits deep within my own heart, as I sit in a hotel room in Istanbul getting ready to travel home tomorrow. I'm here because of my old profession, which raised its head high enough to give me a glimpse into what I might do, if I wanted. I learned that I don't. I love my retired life, and I truly hope you will feel the same. You are such an inspiration with your writing. It touches me very deeply. Thank you so much. :-)


Simply loved this post. When my husband retired, our life together really began. We were able to travel. And although he was limited in what he could do physically, we made the most of every moment. He had 23 years of retirement and he said those years were the best of his life.
I'm going to print some of your words here: " 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."

They absolutely do matter. You will find such new meaning to your life through contentment and solitude and exercise that you will wonder how you worked so long. Just realize that what is ahead is a wonderful surprise waiting for you. Hugs and enjoy that deserved trip to Italy.

Terri Tiffany said...

You are going on another adventure! The trip and retirement. But I love how you enjoy the current adventure just as much!

yaya said...

I could read your words forever. You put into perspective the issues of life and how you deal with them so beautifully. I'm turning 62 this month and retirement has tripped off my tongue a few times. I know I won't stop working yet and hope to get in atleast 4 more years. However, being home after my surgery for these past 6wks with 6 more to go has me realizing that I enjoy the quiet freedom away from the chaos of hospital life. Our hospital is going through a merger that has everyone on edge and big changes are due. Being at the end of my career has me a bit nervous at how that will be handled. I'm using my time now to try and get some little projects done in between resting. I hope also to start to figure out my own next doorway. Hopefully I can enter or shut it with grace!

Laura said...

I suspect you will continue to find many interesting doorways to open and close, open and close and open as you journey continues Deb. I'm so happy that you will be going to Italy and that you are being as present as possible each day to your students, your work, your heart. I've missed you and am so grateful that I stopped by today, this seems like a perfect post to have stepped back into your blogging path.

Barb said...

To actually have doorways (options) is a gift in itself. I love retirement and so does Bob. We're so busy doing exactly what we want to do that we wonder how we got everything done before when we both worked. I'm glad you're already making plans for trips even before official retirement. Better not to wait until sometime in the future. Time slips away; we get older. Make those memories now. Good Luck, Deb. I wish the best for you and feel happy that you can make these plans.

kario said...

Beautiful! I love that you aren't wishing any of your life away, but living it all right now. Have a glorious trip!

Linda Myers said...

You'll get to choose the doorways. That will be the greatest joy.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

So perfectly put. Lots to think about as that retirement hovers. I think you will find your place as long as you don't fill it too quickly with something else. Let it flow. And flower.

Meantime, so happy for the end date. Can't imagine you won't remain dedicated to those children that adore you. Relax, and enjoy where you are today. My words of wisdom coming late at night.

Lavinia said...

Always a delight to read your words and it feels like you are imparting some of your wisdom to us. I am sure your pupils are blessed to have a teacher like you.
I don't think you need to worry about retirement, but enjoy every bit of it.

Anonymous said...

You say, "But if I focus entirely on that horizon, I'm going to miss some great scenery along the way." This is so true. I've had to learn how to relax and enjoy what's in the moment.

I'm not too much older than you are....well, about 9 years....and I've never really retired (still a caregiver to my disabled daughter). But everything you are thinking of doing sounds wonderful. So man to pick from. But as you say...you'll decide when you get there.

It's nice to be back blogging again; I haven't seen you for quite a while so I decided to stop by. Glad I did. Cheers! Ann

Sally Wessely said...

Doorways. Thresholds. I love the way you have woven your story together with these two images. Deb, retirement will be so good for you. You were made for retirement.

I am nearly ten years into retirement. That is amazing to me. I am finally ready to not feel guilty about not work, not having goals, not producing. It took me a long time. Longer than it should have.

We simply must get together again soon. I have so much I want to talk to you about.

Mrs. Riley said...

Oh, DEB! I am so excited for you. For your future, your adventures, your writing life, your freedom. Miss you, my friend!!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog always something to learn from a fellow traveler on this terrestrial..My hubs of nearly 41 years was forced to retire, he fretted and worried, I could work if we cannot make it which we are fine, we live not too far from where you live in Clark County..It has changed so much since june of 1978 we live by a high school, the times are different..we feel a calling to another town but where, we own our tiny home, no bills and an only doing well in her chosen life's work..we go to the coast often with childhood friends, some of them have huge motorhomes they live in all year, but the best part is the tiny cabin owned by a lady who was part of a couple I have known all my life, she is such a hoot, we adore her, we stay when she is gone to seattle to her only child, we love it, it is nothing huge just right near the shore, the fellow friends we just have a blast, we all yak about everything, the other place we go to is eastern Washington wine places and places whereby two couples retired, such a neat warm place..one can only do so much in this life, nothing a person can take with them when they meet the door after they pass from this life, why not look at it this way the door is opening for you to explore and enjoy your life each and everyday, it will be wonderful for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! happy st. patricks day, late Happy Chinese New Year Year of the Wood Sheep and also a jewish holiday too..ciao!

Deborah Barker said...

There is something promising about a doorway - some we go through alone, others we share. My favourite adage is the one, "when one door closes, another opens" and I think I must live my life by it. The doorway to The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is my favourite of all. I wish you well on your continuing journey! :-)