Ordinary Time – October
Lightning struck, the power went out, and with that, more than 1,200 words I had written about problems at a local nursing home evaporated into what was then a cloudless cyberspace. I reacted not as a tough journalist of the 80s, but rather the cub reporter I was. I cried.
And then, I re-wrote my story.
I was reminded of this today – nearly 40 years later – when I went to open a document on my hard drive and discovered that in my recent zeal to “Clean My Mac,” I deleted what was supposed to have been my inaugural foray into writing into retirement.
It’s been a couple of months since I turned in my keys to St. Augustine Catholic High School and threw away my business cards. Since then, my husband has begun a challenging new position in Washington, D.C. We have set up our East Coast apartment while maintaining our home in the Southwest, have welcomed a beautiful grandchild into our lives, and have begun racking up airline miles as we traverse not only the country, but also begin taking tentative steps on an uncharted path in our lives.
My journal – host to thousands of rambling words focused on thoughts and emotions better written than said – has been quite abandoned over the past weeks as I have worked diligently to impose a structure on the business of our lives. Now that this system is mostly in place, I am compelled once again not only to journal, but also to ponder, to put into coherent words the moments that ground me and that help me appreciate the small moments within the larger hours of life.
The story I lost was good. It was about a recent Sunday when my husband and I missed Mass because of having to catch a train from a family visit in Philadelphia back to Washington. During that trip, we experienced the blessing of a kind Amtrak ticket taker, an amazing discussion with a 76-year-old passenger, and finally a holy moment with the woman who drove us in her Uber back to our apartment. I wrote quite cleverly that even though we had not gone to Mass, I felt like we had been to Church.
Perhaps that is my story to cherish and one I don’t need to re-write – at least today. I feel a touch bereft for my lost words, but I did not cry.
In some ways, I have isolated my feelings about these months of transition. I bristle when someone mentions that I am “retired” because I really don’t know if I am or not. It is true that I am no longer a high school principal, but I do have a couple of part-time gigs that keep me attached to education. I am also being quite intentional about taking time out of my day to walk, to explore, to read, and to drink coffee. I can’t quite get over not being attached 24/7 to my school’s network, but I do enjoy planning a dinner menu, shopping the markets, and actually having the time to cook. My husband and I are also trying to do what we said we would do “if” the move to D.C. materialized. Recently, we shopped at the fish market at the District Harbor. Talk about memories of childhood days on the Eastern Shore – blue crabs. Need I say more? We have visited museums and sights including Ford’s Theater and the National Archives. We have re-connected with dear friends. For once, at least for me, I am discovering that there is just enough time in every day.
I recently read a poem in which the author recounts a message from a speaker who notes that most of us move through our lives as if in “a daydream.” We are cognizant of the big picture but can’t seem to focus on the little details. How true. Up to now, I would probably say I have been aware of my propensity to see the umbrella, but not necessarily everything underneath it. However, if this transition from non-stop career climbing to semi-retirement is leading me anywhere, it is guiding me back to the details that allow life to be joyful instead of scary. When I was a child, I would lay on the grass and look for shapes in the clouds. Today, I worry if I lay in the grass, how many bug bites will I get? When I was a child, we planted seeds and watched them grow. Today, I look for plants in full bloom to decorate my patio. I used to play marbles and catch fireflies…and although I might not do that anymore, I feel drawn to the details again – the Amtrak ticket taker, the first smiles from our grandchild, a visit with my Mom, re-creating some of the recipes I first made for my husband when we got married 36 years ago.
When I cleaned out my office before leaving St. Augustine, I discovered a jar of marbles my first best friend in the world had sent me a few years earlier. (Ask anyone – even if I don’t play marbles anymore, I still keep a few with me just in case!) Along with her gift was this note: “Saw these and thought of you. They’re sort of like our treasured ‘moonies’ but with some iridescence…” I can’t help thinking that this is a great metaphor for me and for those of us seeking meaning as we navigate life’s stages. We are burnished, iridescent treasures willing to risk our very being and emotions for opportunities that will indeed include lost words, but will always lead to new stories.