My life was determined by work and traditions for so long that I have continued even long after retiring. I have always rushed from one task or event to another from my birthday in mid November all the way through Christmas Day. This year was no different. I have my regular round of cherished activities to uphold and they make me very happy indeed. The days in between Christmas and New Years Day have generally been a quiet sojourn for me. Mike was a retail banker by trade and he had little time away from work at this time of year. He was lucky if he got off early on Christmas Eve and unless Christmas landed on a weekend he was right back at work the day after the big holiday. Of course I was an educator and I had a nice long winter break so I was able to wish him well as he scurried back to work and then roll back under the covers to steal a bit of extra rest.
I suppose that I should have felt a bit guilty that I had such a long vacation and Mike did not but somehow I always believed that Mike would see through my fake sympathy and know that I was far too happy about my own free time to worry about his lack of it. Besides, he was one of those people who never even came close to using his sick leave and vacation time. If he had worked for a business that paid for all of those accumulated hours at the time of retirement he would have had a nest egg worth at least two years or more of income. Instead he was quite dedicated to his work and understood that his customers, employees, and employers depended on his being in the trenches with them. Thus I was free to determine my own fate during the days leading up to the new year and I always chose the ways of a hibernating bear.
To this very day I view this time of year as a kind of gift for all of my hard work during the rest of the seasons. It is the one time when I become thoroughly relaxed. I let myself and my duties go and only agree to work enough to get the Christmas trash on the curb for the garbage men and to keep me and Mike fed and supplied with clean clothes. Otherwise I do not engage in big projects nor do I even set goals for the future. I totally immerse myself in the joy of doing whatever I wish or doing nothing at all. It is a freeing experience and one which seriously sharpens my senses.
When I stop long enough to hear the sounds inside and outside my home I gain a new appreciation for the beauty of the mundane. I hear the birds, the whistling of the wind, the voices of children at play. I feel my heart and my pulse slow while my thoughts harken to happy memories, times when I have felt the ultimate contentment. A year that felt hectic and lacking in retrospect seems quite wonderful indeed.
I see more clearly when I slow my pace. Even the act of pouring a class of milk turns into a spiritual moment. I see the beauty of that white, foamy liquid and the blessing of the abundance that I so often take for granted. I savor my food and reflect on the hard work that it took to get it to my home. I wonder why I have been so lucky to be in the place where I am rather in some hellish spot on earth. I am surrounded by love and security and mostly always have been. My story might otherwise have been so very different.
I use days like this to read. Somehow it seems as though I have devoured my favorite books over the holidays. Perhaps it is because I don’t have to put them down due to other obligations. If I so choose I may savor them from beginning to end without interruption. I have no appointments, no places that I must be. If I wish to read through the wee hours of the night, I may. My schedule is flexible and my own.
I often think it fun to watch movies all day long or do a marathon viewing of one of my favorite television programs. Staying in my pajamas from dawn to dusk is a simple pleasure that I only allow myself when I am sick and at this time of year. I generally bear the traits of my ancestors who never wasted an hour of daylight on frivolous undertakings but in the coming days I will do so without even a hint of regret. This is my “me” time.
Mike now joins me in this annual tradition. When he finally retired he did so with gusto. He ultimately learned how to unwind and perhaps even regretted allowing so much of his allocated free time to go unused. He is an internet junkie and learns something new virtually every single day. His boyhood habit of reading the encyclopedia adapted quite readily to surfing websites where he has become an expert in a variety of esoteric topics. I never know what strange information he will convey to me from his searches.
There was a time when people rarely had the luxury of simply tuning out for a few days. There were always tasks that could not be ignored. The daily routines had to be followed for survival. Many people would like to make us believe that these are horrific times in which we should be angry. In fact this is a quite dangerous era for some but most of us are living in ways so wonderful that they are beyond even the dreams of our ancestors. We tend to take so much for granted and to notice what we lack rather than to appreciate what we have.
As I sit in my living room next to my Christmas tree I realize that my life more closely resembles the wealthy of old than that of my grandparents and great grandparents. I have seen the wild and primitive place where my ancestors tilled the soil and scraped out an existence that rarely varied from day to day. They felt blessed because they had a plot of land and a roof over their heads. They never dared believe that their descendants might one day enjoy the luxuries that are mine. Mostly they would not be able to conceive of the free time that I have in this my sabbatical week.
Being a teacher was hard work, more so than anyone who has not tried it will ever understand. The hours were long, at least sixty to eighty or more every single week. My buddies and I once estimated that the average teacher works the equivalent of one and a half years during the ten months of the official educator clock. Teachers appear to have lots of time off but they in fact work so long and so hard during a compressed time period that in reality they work much more than most employees. Few ever think to count the time that teachers spend grading and preparing at home as actual work hours. Only their family members understand the intensity of their dedication. If their salaries were determined by including all of the time that they actually spend carrying out the duties of their jobs they would be among the highest paid members of our society. They truly need the rest and recreation of the holidays to be ready for the big push of the spring semester. I’ve been there and I know all too well what lies ahead for them. That is why I so enjoyed my little bit of free time each winter and why I still cherish it even to this day.
I suppose that I will always be a teacher at heart. I have yet to view the year through the lens of a normal twelve month calendar. I operate according to the seasons of the school year. Old habits are difficult to change. Instead I just kick back and enjoy the world as I have known it. This is my time to let everything go.