Sunday, November 24, 2013
Retirement has become a regular topic of conversation in our household. I bring it up. Often. Walt, who could retire in another year and a half, loves his days as a teacher of math to middle school kids. He got his 35 year pin a couple of years ago, and he seems to gain more satisfaction with his job every year. I'm really grateful for that. Because it's not his retirement I'm wanting. It's mine.
I feel much like I did when I was twelve. I can barely see that girl across the half-century gap that separates us, but I remember her unhappiness. No longer a child, not quite a teenager, not wanting to be there (wherever that was), but not sure where exactly she did want to be. Adulthood beckoned like big city lights, offering freedom, independence, adventure unrestricted by authority. Childhood had not been so great, but a stubborn part of her held out hope it wasn't too late to recover at least some tendrils of the uncomplicated joy she believed she'd missed out on.
She would look in the mirror and be confused by what she saw. Still expecting the braids and bangs and freckles that had defined her younger face, not yet able to see the sophisticated beauty she hoped her adult face would bring, nothing seemed quite right. A seventh-grader, barely surviving the seas of junior high after the quiet pond of elementary school (which she longed to be away from), she endlessly compared herself to flashing schools of town girls. They seemed confident, comfortable, and oh so worldly. Everything she was not.
Caught between the past and the future, the present offering nothing her soul longed for, she waited. She made a friend. She resisted her family. She wrote and read her way into her deeper truer self.
Fifty years later, retirement beckons in the same way adulthood once did. I see retired friends enjoying freedom, and exploring new adventures with energy I get to experience only one month out of every year. I'm at the end of a career I never expected to practice for so long and which has never fit quite right, like a beautiful dress bought one size too small. With the stubborn hope that has sustained me over the decades, I start every new school year searching for spiritual gifts and some answer that will finally make that dress fit.
Looking in the mirror is just as confusing as it was all those years ago. While my face never did morph into sophisticated beauty, it did become a friendly face that people often believed they'd seen before and felt comfortable with. A pretty face with an easy smile. And she's still in there, that younger adult, just harder to find behind the wrinkles and jowls and eyes that show everything whether I want it revealed or not.
I want to do more than just wait out these next few years. It might be only two. It might be three. Or it might be more depending on the bottom line financially. But unlike when I was twelve, there is not the luxury of the appearance of unlimited time. However, maybe I can borrow from the wisdom that kept her safe and whole enough to get to the freedom and independence she sought:
Rely on friends for comfort and fun and true mirroring. Resist whatever seeks to kill dreaming and hope. Embrace the one thing that has remained constant from the time squiggles on a page became a magic door; read and write the way through.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Often when I'm outside in these shortening days I can hear geese calling even when I can't see them through fog that seems to be the handmaiden of winter darkness. Come join us, I hear. Vestigial wing buds twitch and burn beneath my skin.
A morning driving in later than usual, late enough that the thickly clouded sky reveals both texture and form, I realize that beneath the myriad shades of gray flickers the faintest fire of pink. In the west. Not the east where one would expect to see a sunrise. I look behind me to be sure, and the east is as gray as the down of a goose. The pale blush stays with me for most of the trip to school before it's absorbed by sky mountains of thick moisture.
Even in these days when Persephone has returned to Hades and her mother's grief leaves the world to fend for itself, surprising bits of color manage to survive. Nasturtiums glow orange and gold. Geraniums offer flecks of magenta and salmon. Even roses unfurl hopeful reds into gray days.
Occasionally a strong wind will swoop out of nowhere, first tickling the tops of trees, and then scouring everything in its path below. Blizzards of leaves fill the air, along with maple seeds rotoring madly to the ground. Nakedness follows in its wake: trees stripped, the air empty and clean, my defenses breached.
Always this time of year fills me with a formless longing. This year is no different. Except the quality of yearning has shifted.
Before, I thought I knew what my wings would carry me to if I could only find a way to release them. That destination changed from year to year, but there was always some concrete missing thing or person or accomplishment that I believed I was destined to find. And that I believed would once and for all be my ticket to a life in the sky.
I finally know that it's not that simple. There will be no one event to release me from this sense that I'm missing something important. This feeling that life is passing me by and I'm approaching the end and I'll get there without having done what I came here to do. I feel more fully alive in these days of darkness in which everything is magnified like the flare of a dying star. Maybe that's enough. Each day received as a gift, approached with a sense of adventure, spent thoughtfully. Maybe the longing itself is an offering of love meant to be accepted and treasured and explored.
Monday, November 11, 2013
When I opened the card from Walt on Tuesday, birthday morning, the weekend ahead contained all the elements for a perfect romantic getaway. A drive down the Oregon coast on a school day (we both took personal days). Breakfast, our favorite traveling meal, at a new place en route. The promise of all the shopping my heart desired along the way. Things at home left in the capable and loving hands of our favorite critter sitter and her family. Our destination a highly rated bed and breakfast that looked like a European chateau in the website picture.
The first bump in the road happened on Thursday night. Out of the blue we lost water pressure. We're on a well. It was after hours. There was no one to come help us until morning. Which would have delayed our departure by who-knew-how-long. Some time after I went to bed, the pressure returned, so that by the time we left on Friday morning, it was as though nothing had happened.
Our breakfast restaurant, a place Walt found on the internet, was clearly a local fixture, slightly grimy and packed to the door with people who all seemed to know each other. It was a seat-yourself place, depending on people to be honorable. We'd gotten a late start and were both hungry, so leaving wasn't a good option. We resigned ourselves to waiting. Tables emptied with surprising speed, and soon we found ourselves standing alone with just one other couple who had walked in just before us. A table came open. The woman of the couple asked her husband if he'd mind sitting at the bar, and then told us to take the table. That one small act of kindness stayed with me for the rest of the weekend. Plus the breakfast was good.
The drive was fun. We chatted about things we never seem to have time for in our busy day-to-day: retirement, vacations, house needs, school, holidays, family. We shopped. We laughed. We held hands. So when we finally arrived at the bed and breakfast we were in a happy state of mind and looking for the magic to continue.
My first sight of the place was breathtaking. A turret and cedar that glowed in the late afternoon light. It did truly look like something out of a fairy tale. The innkeeper was warm and welcoming, the living room beachy comfortable, the dining room cute and inviting. Walt had reserved the Heather Room for us. The walls were a beautiful shade of purple. We could see the ocean from the windows.
The next morning Walt began the conversation with his disappointment in the room. I was relieved. There was no way I was going to be disappointed with something he'd worked so hard to provide for the sole purpose of pleasing me. There was no one big thing, but so many little things. The bed and pillows were uncomfortable. A strong mildew odor permeated the air. The noise from the highway that separated us from the ocean kept us from hearing the waves crashing. Perhaps things to be expected from a standard mom-and-pop beach motel, but not from a very expensive B&B that promoted itself as a retreat from the cares of the world.
Breakfast that first morning was good, and we set out on our day with good energy and high hopes. Despite my lingering bronchitis and Walt's newly developing sore throat. A long satisfying walk on the beach in mild still air. More shopping. A stop for coffee that turned out to be exceptionally good during which a man with shoe-polish black hair curling around his face struck up a conversation. It was his dog that opened the door. A sweet terrier-sized mutt with huge paws that he told incredible tales about: a mixture of Saint Bernard and corgi, trained by the queen, drug sniffing and recently took down a large man by the throat. I couldn't quite figure the guy out. He was clean and articulate, although his stories were wilder than any a child might tell. He was vain enough to color the mop of hair his hat barely contained, although it might have been a wig. The missing front tooth further complicated the picture. I was enjoying the experience and the dog, although I could feel Walt at my side wanting to get us both away from there. Finally, the point of the conversation became clear: he tried to sell me a necklace made of beads found at some archeological site for a price far below their true value because he needed gas money. I let Walt pull me away, feeling weirdly more alive and richer for the conversation.
The rest of the weekend was much the same. Huge disappointments (our second breakfast of cold and undercooked vegetable hash and over-poached eggs) absorbed, laughed at, moved on from. Delightful surprises (two baldies dancing in the air overhead as we drove home) received with gratitude and awe. The time together an adventure we'll treasure forever, as much because of the challenges as in spite of them.
What better way to start a new year than knowing we can roll with it all, finding love and adventure anywhere we're together. Even in the later years of life, understanding it's possible to achieve new levels of contentment and acceptance and wonder unconnected to circumstance.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Last weekend I was feeling that sense of rightness and ease and joy that comes from physical movement and a choice to release expectations. Exploring Vashon Island with five friends for our second annual retreat at Lavender Hill Farm, we'd been to breakfast, the farmers' market and on a long hike through gorgeous terrain full of fall's glory. We'd finally found Wingehaven Park, a tucked-away beach that was the site of a former estate, and were spread out, each woman engaged in her own reflective communion.
As we walked back toward the stairs that led us to the narrow beach, two things happened simultaneously. I heard a loon cry. A bald eagle flew directly overhead. Both birds are voice of God for me, and to get them both at the same time on a day full of love and laughter and acceptance—it was overwhelming in the best way possible.
We watched the eagle for a long time before making our way back to the cars. Six women (Sandy, Sally, DJan, Jann, Linda), all of a certain age, brought together last year by a desire to meet blog friends whose words spoke to our hearts strongly. Returned to our place this year by some undefinable pull (and a shared spirit of adventure) and joined in a comfortable sisterhood more like that of lifelong friends than internet acquaintances.
Everything glowed last weekend. Even more brilliant by contrast in the sharp gray air, reds and oranges and golds radiated from dying deciduous leaves. The small-town family feel of Vashon infused every interaction (a sign on the trail to the beach said dogs off leash only if they don't bother others). The returned-home ambience of Lavender Hill where the six of us settled in almost like we'd never left. The faces of women who have suffered much and have found ways to live in joy and gratitude, including giving ourselves the gift of time together.
In the week that's followed, gifts have continued to swirl around me like leaves blown away to make room for next year's buds. An abundance that I'm so grateful for—both for its presence and for my ability to recognize it.
Yesterday was a perfect illustration. A day spent with my brother, Mark, working in his space at an antique mall, cleaning and rearranging everything except the furniture. Five hours of hard work spent in mostly quiet camaraderie reflective of our adult friendship, one of the greatest treasures of my life. A dinner after, arranged by Mark, with our two brothers and their wives. Our fourth annual dinner celebration of my birthday—an accidental tradition that is the only time we're all together in the course of a year. I sat in the midst of people who have known me longer than anyone, so happy to listen to the conversations, so grateful that in spite of odds that might have sent us in an entirely different direction, we love each other. And would do anything for each other. A return home to Walt who hadn't joined me because he wanted to surprise me with the new computer I'm working from right this minute.
I turn 62 on Tuesday. It is a time of life full of loss, so like the autumn I love best. And just like autumn, a time full of bright promise and the flaming, unmistakable glory that leaves no doubt that I live held in the wings of holiness and love. I can hardly wait to see what comes next.