This is me, this past week, teaching a Philosophy class, in the same classroom, at the same school, as I have done for these past 29 years. I look happy, I am happy, I love teaching. If all there is to teaching is teaching, then, on most days I feel I can teach for ever. But there are meetings, and duties, and obligations, and grades to compute and comments to write, and students to see, and parents to see, and visits to the college office, and plays and other performances and sports events to attend, and (did I mention meetings), new technology to master and more and more pressure on faculty and students alike as the college application process year-by-year encroaches on every corner of high school life. You grow older among a sea of perpetual youth so gradually that you hardly notice your own well of bountiful energy starts to dry up. If your time in the classroom invigorates you, all that time away from the class room drains your internal reservoirs. I am tired. This has been an unusually trying year of ups and downs and I feel it now. So this is no time to make decisions. But for me the transition away from teaching in this pressured environment has already begun. One more year I have said, a heads up, so as to graciously exit (as a older friend once called it) “the little stage” of the class room.
Transitions abound in my life as in your own. Elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school (usually) to college, college to (maybe) grad school, and then usually a job. Along the way transitions to and from relationships, transitions through the individuating process in adolescence into new understandings of parents and family life, experiments with and questions around gender roles and sexuality. Transitions in serious relationships, surviving break up, heart ache, more commitment, then (maybe) marriage, children, divorce, second time around a better fit, illness, death. Children, and the unfolding of unconditional love. Big bumps suddenly in life’s smooth path; divorce or death of a (partner) spouse. How do we recover from those transitions? But we do, although gradually life’s bumps and bruises whittle away at our core.
When I had a recent significant birthday I treated myself to a session with a world famous astrologer (Lawrence Hillman) and he is as good as his reputation. At the end of the session he said you have to find a place you can call home. This statement made me ponder, didn’t my Buddhist teachings say home is where the heart is? Well, yes and no. Metaphorically, yes, but physically no; physically I’ve never much cared for the New England landscape although I love the shore villages in the summer and the tranquil Berkshire Hills, and the mountains of Vermont but New England can never replace my complete at-one-ness with the South African landscape I love. Never home. It is too cold and barren and dead for too much of the year. I crave flowers, color, bird song, scents, warmth and light, sunlight, I am a person of the light. My life is in the USA now. I am an African-American. And I’ve found “home” in south west Florida surrounded by the one-of-a-kind and magnificent Everglades that teeming estuarine environment of great white clouds and blue sky, birds, saw grass and fish. And light and warmth.
This week my counselor suggested I write about transitions because she has so many clients (especially women) experiencing all of the above (and many more), all the time. So perhaps I will. I appreciate your feedback.
Note: The top photograph © Milton Academy 2014; and the other © Janet Levine 2013.
Lovely to read your blog Janet. I have found transitions an important way to think throughout my life, personally and professionally. (I have undergone many of the transitions you mention: divorce, remarriage, cancer, death of a husband, etc. I also work in change management in organizations.)
I am now at another transition point in my life (at 65) where I don’t entirely want to stop working (I actually think I have learned ‘stuff’ about life, and want to keep sharing this), yet I also think I want more time for myself.
So I find myself listening intently when other women start talking about this next important stage in their lives.
So, please keep sharing!
It reminds me of the story of the guy who leaves London and goes out east Far East. There he lives for years telling everyone about this wonderful place London. Eventually he takes the trip back only to find it nothing like he had been describing it. So he decided to return to his place out East but somehow never got there.
When are you coming to visit us?
Greetings to an English teacher from a Marist Linmeyer pupil from over 40+ years ago. You certainly made an impression on myself and others in my class, who to this day, still enquire about you. You tried to foster an appreciation of literature, the arts and to be independent thinkers. Believe it or not, you actually got through to some of us, and for others, it took a little longer. Teachers do make a difference and are remembered by those that appreciate them after this many years. Thank you for giving me lift home after school and dropping me off in Bertrams on your way home.
I too, hanker after the smell, weather and scenery of Southern Africa.
Allen Johnson, Marist Brother Linmeyer, Matric class of 1974