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.