We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
My friend, Barb, recently retired after more than thirty years in the classroom. In preparation for a mid-August garage sale, she's been spending an uncommon amount of time sifting and sorting an enormous amount of teaching materials, some of which I gave her during a serious "purge mode".
"I'm having a hard time knowing what to keep and what to sell," she admitted over the phone last week. "Especially the calendar stuff."
"Oh, I know exactly what you mean," I laughed. "It took me seven years to get rid of most of my things after I left Greenwood. The calendar stuff was the very last to go...and YOU got that."
"Well, I'm getting it ready to give back," she replied.
"And it will go directly to my friend, Mary," I chuckled.
We talked a bit about why calendar and daily weather activities were so enjoyable as they set the tone of the day and taught everything from reading to math to predictability and the phases of the moon. My first graders loved that while we would talk about the calendar activities in English, eventually the weather was discussed in German. I can still clearly remember the year when my kids learned the phrase, "Heute ist Dienstag und es gibt Regen...noch einmal!" Today is Tuesday and it's going to rain...again! For that year, it predictably rained on gym days and the kids were stuck inside instead of going out to play soccer or softball.
When my pal, Danta, was going into first grade, he was afraid to start the school year.
"Being a first grader can be scary," I told him. "But you know, I was nervous every single first day, even when I was a teacher."
"You were?" he asked, his eyes widening.
"Yes!" I admitted. "On the last first day of my teaching career I even threw up!"
"Uh-huh!" I nodded. "To tell you the truth, every single day I got up and didn't want to go to school. Every...single...day for eleven years."
"The whole time you were a teacher?"
"Yep. I loved to teach, but for some reason I didn't want to go to school." I smiled and tousled Danta's hair. "But after we started doing the calendar work, I was just fine and sailed through the rest of the day."
"School's hard sometimes," he sighed.
"Oh, I know it...life is hard sometimes, too."
I've had time this weekend to journal and was up well past midnight writing about something that will be hard, but will eventually change my life for the better. In order to embrace it, I have to give up a lot of what I've been holding onto for more than thirty years. It can't be seen like all of the books and flash cards and bulletin board supplies Barb is selling in a couple of weeks. And yet, it's cost me a lot of time and energy to keep it safely stored in the hope chest of what I thought my life was supposed to be.
When I wrote my memoir in 2013, someone told me I was too young to write such a thing. "Read it and then get back to me," I laughed. For sometimes it feels as if I've lived three separate lives: the one before I moved to California, the one while I was there, and the one I'm striving to create in the years since my return.
Now in the process of taking a new step forward, I find I'm shuffling backwards just a bit to get a broader perspective of where I've been so that I can let go of that which no longer serves me. I'm learning to speak up when before I've been silent, and to recognize once more that while any change can be scary, courage isn't the absence of fear, but the ability to face it without being paralyzed. I know I'm the Queen of the Sideways Shuffle, so I'm also learning how to meet challenges head-on instead of subtly sneaking up on them from the side-line. But it's not easy.
Many times in the past I've asked myself, "If I give this up, who am I?"
If I give up teaching, what's my social identity?
If I give up Esalen, where am I supposed to be?
If I give up the drama of family issues, with whom do I belong?
If I decide to take a risk and become someone's wife, do I have to let go of my independence?
I used to prefer things to be ordered and controlled. Predictable and uncomplicated. Perhaps this is why I loved to teach the calendar with its never-changing elements. February always follows January. Winter always melts into spring. A full moon gives way to a new one...always. The calendar was an anchor and a reflection of who I had become. Still, I drew and colored my own whimsical headers for the months. The patterns we used to count the days were always seasonally related (pumpkins and bats for October and snowmen and penguins for January). Calendar time was always bright and lively and a great way to start the day.
Yet in the end, I had to give it up...and my time in the classroom as well. For if I didn't, I knew that I'd stay frozen in what was logical and never move into the mystery and magic of the unknown.
The other day Barb came over for lunch, bringing with her my calendar headers and the pop-up seasonal posters I had hung outside my classroom door. It was like Christmas morning to pull them from the plastic bag and remember all of the years they had been teaching tools for my students.
"Maybe I should keep these," I said to Barb. "I might use them in a yoga studio someday if I teach kids' classes."
"Maybe," Barb shrugged.
Then I caught myself and laughed. "NO! Hurry up and put them back in the bag so I can set them aside for Mary. They're not mine anymore and it's too much of a temptation to go backward." November was missing, but that was no surprise, for the turkey I had drawn back in the early 90's had a flimsy neck to begin with and I'm sure that wear and tear sent him to the recycle bin.
But isn't that where all of our past should go?
While seeing my old teaching tools was a taste of nostalgia, I'm reminded that the word comes from the Greek roots "nostos" and "algos" which mean "returning home to pain." And I'm not going to let myself walk back into bittersweet memories...not anymore.
There's a lot to be said for learning from the past. For cleaning up old business. For taking a personal inventory of how our history has made us who we are. I've been there and done that more times than I can count. Still, I chose Joseph Campbell's quote as an epigraph for my memoir and for this blog because it's a gentle invitation to continually step into the unpredictable, the mysterious, and the miraculous.
Only then can we finally understand what Shakespeare meant when he wrote, What's past is prologue.