The State of the Union speech last evening reminded me how quickly time goes by. Eight years ago I was not yet in my sixties. I was still working at KIPP Houston High School and my mother was not only alive but appeared to be incredibly healthy. Most of my grandchildren were still toddlers or very young school children. It would have been impossible for me to even imagine the many changes that have taken place in my life and the world at large. As is the usual case with most of us I assumed that things would continue just as they were back then. It never occurred to me that I would lose loved ones and good friends in the coming years. I was not even thinking about retirement nor did I ever consider that one day I would spend hours writing every single day. I barely knew some of the people who are now so important to me. I was completely caught up in my day to day routine and had little time to reflect on where I had been, where I was, or where I hoped to go. In other words I tended to take everything for granted.
Only three years after Barack Obama became President my life was drastically upended. I had learned that my mother had lung cancer. My boss was changing jobs and I didn’t think it wise to attempt to stay at the school with a new principal who appeared to want her own faculty and staff. I had entered my sixties and felt that perhaps the time was right to think about retirement even though I had little idea what I would do once I was home all day. My last week of work was in early June of 2011. My mother died only three days after I had left my office for the last time. I was an emotional mess but I bore my feelings so close to my chest that few who knew me would have understood just how stunned and saddened I really was. I had learned long ago how to hid my feelings and on the occasion of my mother’s death I kept my composure quite well.
My daughters had scheduled a retirement party for me that was to have taken place on the day after my mother died. Somehow we managed to contact most of the guests to alert them that there would be no celebration. I sat at my daughter’s home for hours on the previously appointed day just in case someone had not heard about the change. A few people did come by and I found that seeing them really helped me. It was all very quiet and unlike what I had always dreamed it would be. Somehow my mother seemed to have understood that she might not make it to my party because she had left word that she wanted the family to carry on no matter what happened. Of course none of us were up to that task.
After her funeral I felt lost. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. I had anticipated working until at least 2014 or beyond. My decision to retire had been based mostly on a feeling that I would be needed to help my mother get the treatments that she needed for her cancer. Without that duty I felt as though I had no direction for my life.
After some grieving I found myself wanting to write, something that I had always dreamed of doing from the time that I was a student. Suddenly there were hours and hours stretching before me and it seemed that filling them with such a delightful hobby would be exciting. I spent everyday for the first six months working on a memoir. I took a class at Rice University to learn how to build an audience of readers and how to successfully market my book. It was there that I first became enchanted with the idea of writing a blog. I found my morning exercise of writing for the first hour or two to be a life saver for me. Suddenly I felt as though I had a purpose. I began waking up with energy and found that I was truly enjoying my days without a job.
For the first time ever I was able to travel to visit my grandchildren any time that I wished. I was no longer bound by the daily schedule and appointments of a job. I was able to enjoy them in ways that had never before been possible. Nonetheless it seems as if they have all grown up overnight. Surely I only blinked and looked away for a moment and somehow they are young adults and teenagers.
One of the perks of retirement is that I have been able to attend so many of the graduations of my former students and to spend time with them on a more casual and comfortable basis. It has made my heart burst with unmitigated pride to see them becoming such fine people. They have earned degrees, begun jobs, joined the military, and started families. Each of them learned their lessons well and understood the concept of working hard and being nice.
Facebook has been one of my most enjoyable adventures since 2008. I have been reunited with people whom I thought were lost forever. I have initiated friendships with individuals that I never knew that well but whom I now look forward to hearing from each day. I have laughed and learned and even cried as I read their posts. On my wall I get a slice of life much like I encountered at work. Facebook keeps me tuned in to the world at large. I know what is happening and feel that I am not growing older but becoming more hip.
If I have one regret about the last eight years it is that I sometimes did not follow through on my good intentions. I had thought to visit an aunt who was sick. I never got there before she died. I perhaps should have spent more time with others as well. Like most I have a tendency to procrastinate. I have learned the hard way that it is better to spend a few minutes delivering a message to someone important than to wait until another day. Sometimes we miss our opportunities to tell people how much we care for them.
I hate that we Americans have become so divided in the last eight years. Unlike President Obama I do not think that it is the fault of one group or one party. It is a problem with all of us, including him. Somewhere along the way to 2016 we stopped listening to one another. We lost our manners. We became angry and hurtful with anyone with whom we do not agree. The results are toxic and hopefully we will find a way to work together again. Sadly that doesn’t appear to be something that will happen any time soon.
So we are once again racing toward a national election. By next November we will have a new President. In January someone new will deliver the State of the Union address to the nation. Life will speed on its way just as it always does. We will change and so will the people around us. We can’t stop the passage of the hours or the unfolding of events. Nature will do her thing and people will surprise us. Hopefully I’ve learned the importance of making every single moment count. We have no control over the pace of each day but we can take charge of how we meet the challenges and opportunities that come our way. If I make it through another eight years I will be seventy five years old. I’d like to think that I will still be vibrant and energetic but one never really knows. All any of us can do is value the time and the people that we have and hope that our influence is positive. Morning will continue to come. We need to wake up and make the best of it.