The final stretch: looking back at my life wistfully and with a bit of wisdom

I have  reached a certain age in life, 72, wherein every day I am  aware that time is more precious and fleeting than it was the day or week or month before.   I am in a period of assessing my life now because I so often think about past jobs, people I have known, and, the successes as well as the great failures and subsequent transition periods and turning points where there were great awakenings for me.    From inner chaos, depression and uncertainty have always come times of liberation and clear-headedness, focus and attainment.   Then I settled down and life was more ordinary and predictable.  That is how we keep our sanity, I think.

Life also has a way of paying me back or dealing out consequences for my actions.   When I left a teaching job because it was driving me to depression and despair 25 years ago, I disappointed some people, to say the least. I gravely disappointed myself. I felt like a failure. It effectively meant the end of my career in that field because I couldn’t imagine being in a similar situation again.

I couldn’t deal with the discipline problems. Cunning adolescents can make life pure hell for a teacher if they sense his mood and vulnerabilities. However, one has to realize the social dysfunction of the families they came from, but teachers are not therapists and psychologists. Maybe the very best ones can rise to that level in their teaching and self -confidence, but not I.

Thrown into a situation after my first teaching job of 135 students compared to 32, I was sinking. But I felt I had to give it a try because it was impossible to make a living on the other school’s salary. I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that I had to do something different. I just felt this terrible regret and sadness when it didn’t work out because it was something I had worked hard to prepare for. Masters degree in education. Teacher certification from the state. All that work gone in almost the blink of an eye.

Forty years later I still have disturbing dreams about that last teaching experience, but I realize, as I did even back then, that grade school teaching i large public schools was not something I was ever going to be temperamentally able to do. I had the desire and the innate ability, and I’ve always told people since then that under the right circumstances, teaching can be the most rewarding career anyone can ever have, if they overcome the initial hurdles and master the art. Sadly, I think there are fewer and fewer who can do that in today’s schools, and in today’s world, where societal norms seem fractured beyond repair.

Effectively, back in 1984, I had to start over in life, just as I had had to do four years prior to that.  In between was one of the most spiritually satisfying and happy periods of my life and my first teaching job which I loved (see my previous entry).   Within just a few months my relatively happy and good life had completely changed.

I put everything I owned in storage and hit the road for Seattle.  Over the next ten years I would do that again and again as I tried one thing or another, or futilely job hunted, or took the wrong job that never meant to be more then temporary, and had to pay the price for doing that.

I was in graduate school and teaching temporarily in a college. Then another graduate school of journalism and mass communications, my original career choice before I became an English teacher. It was like I was caught up in an endless cycle.   Was it karma or something like that? One wonders. Make the wrong decisions, pay the price.  Live with constant uncertainty, seek endlessly to find a bit of stability, return to those short interludes where life had some stability and purpose — on and on for ten years, an unbroken loop.

I have learned that all of this was for a reason.   I am retired now, or as I put it in a note to someone recently, “long past my working life.” I feel closer to finding peace than ever, yet since my decade of caregiving for my mother ended four years ago, I not only grieve that loss, but can’t shake the void that took the place of that salvific time of selflessness as I devoted my life to another. Caregiving is so deeply fulfilling, and gives life so much meaning for the time you are doing it, that when it’s over you at first feel relief, then a couple of years later as now, the void spreads into every corner of your life. Life still has meaning, but I found myself after Covid retreating farther back into solitude and loneliness, the kind of life I always knew until I had to take on the responsibility and challenge of a lifetime, which involved literally every act of caregiving for a parent with dementia. No one can possibly be sufficiently prepared for that.

It’s the final month of 2023. Christmas is little more than two weeks off. I’m settled in a new place and location. But I don’t feel at peace yet because of the continuing drag from the psychological and mental health baggage I’ve carried around with me for a lifetime.
At least I have made progress in my spiritual journey and learning from multiple sources. I’m more grateful than ever for my liberal arts college education in English and the humanities. My intellectual enthusiasms and experiences seem to have opened portals to other worlds and universes. It’s mind-boggling times.

But life now feels as if it is truly entering the final stretch.  When I was younger, I never could have even imagined what I would be thinking or feeling now.

Sometimes life is lived in intervals, and when we get to the final stretch, those intervals disappear.

Log in to write a note
December 8, 2023

Sometimes I feel like my entire life has been a series of mistakes and bad decisions. Of course,  we learn and grow from each one, and it’s painful, but I’m a much better and smarter person than I was 50 years ago, and I didn’t have the advantage of a college education. It’s all about growth.

December 10, 2023

@startingover_1 I relate.  But for me it was more than a series of bad decisions.  It was also sheer misfortune and lack of ability to asset myself and be true to myself at critical junctures in life.  Without that, during my ten years wandering in the wilderness, so to speak, I was at the mercy of, and blown about by the winds of fate.  It was a helpless feeling at times, but I kept on persevering, despite everything that was going against me.

December 8, 2023

You’re a gifted writer, Oswego. I hope you’ll continue to share with us, and maybe you might want to teach your craft to others, and consider returning to your “working life.”

I was fortunate that I had the temperament to work with students of all ages, although I made many mistakes along the way. I’m in touch with some of my students, and they have long forgiven me for my errors, and look back fondly on those hours we spent together in study.

I’m in a stage of my career where I get to work far fewer hours (15) and in much better conditions (first year college students) in a field I love (mathematics.) I have affectionate and supportive relationships with this diverse group of young people, and I’m glad I can continue my work with them.

December 10, 2023

@ravdiablo Many thanks for your kind words.  I wrote for a living for years as a journalist.  For me writing is as important as breathing and eating.  It is sustenance for body and soul.  As I’ve told people before, “I cannot not write.”

You are very fortunate indeed to have the temperament for teaching all ages.  I would think I could have done well teaching in a community college, which I had hoped to do, but alas, that dream imploded in a most unfortunate way.

I have been writing online for 25 years now, and this entry, which you may or may not have scene, recaps my Internet writing experience, which has been the best thing ever to happen to me.



December 8, 2023

I think we just naturally turn to reflection as we grow older.  I know I do a lot of looking back & seeing the mistakes I made and where those mistakes led me.  Then grappling with the sense of failure.

“Sometimes life is lived in intervals, and when we get to the final stretch, those intervals disappear.”  Oh so true!

December 10, 2023

@ghostdancer Indeed, that last sentence is the key one in this entry.  I need to explore more deeply what I meant by that.