The end of the school year is hurtling towards me faster than I can manage to keep up. Friday morning, all the teacher mailboxes were bright purple with some kind of mass announcement, and when I looked at mine it stopped me in my tracks. It was an invitation to the end of year staff party for people who are retiring and also for those who are leaving the school, and there was my name right at the top. I hadn’t known it was coming, and it really took me by surprise. Sure, I had started thinking that there would be some kind of something, but I expected . . . well, I guess I don’t know what I expected. But – the retirement parties of the past have always been held at the very end of the year. This one is a full three weeks sooner. And I have a conflict that afternoon with an appointment that I will have to change . . . and . . . and . . . and now it’s more real.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful or crabby about it – that’s not it at all. I think having this party before the end of school will make it a lot easier because it won’t really be a good-bye. And I’m not the only person leaving, so I won’t be the only one in the spotlight, and I’m truly grateful for that. And it’s lovely to be recognized – even though it will be hard to be the center of attention, and far better than no recognition at all. I have MUCH to be thankful for.
I had a big “Aha!” moment this week, when I was talking with a friend, and it has given me much to consider over the last few days. It’s about the stages of the grieving process. First introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, (I was only 18 then!) the work is about how we respond as human beings to significant loss. Suddenly I realized that I am passing through these stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In some additional research, I found that Webmd.com lists eighteen major life events that can cause grief, some of which are not necessarily “bad” things, and the list includes “retirement.” The web site does not discuss the stages of Kübler-Ross’ work, but does validate for me the emotional roller coaster I’ve been feeling, especially in recent days.
Even though I’m getting a lot done and checking things off my fairly lengthy to-do list, (all while still creating lesson plans and having a great time teaching students) I have been feeling stuck and depressed, and paralyzed about doing things that shouldn’t be difficult. I can feel myself pulling away from end-of-the-school-year conversations, and it fills me with sadness that those things I still care about no longer include me.
On the other hand, I’m excited that soon I’ll be free to do what I want when I want, to sit down and write no matter what day of the week it is or what time of the day it is, or to take advantage of good weather and go for a walk, or work in the garden in the middle of the day, any day. It’s a back and forth, up and down, in and out kind of thing; just when I think I’m on solid ground, there’s a little earthquake, like an invitation to a party, that shakes it all up. The blur of events passing so quickly is chaotic, but I know that mental chaos always leads to greater understanding, so it’s all good, right?
The invitation in my mailbox registered about a 6 on the Richter Scale, I think, because it represents more than a simple party. Maybe it’s the metaphor of the imminent reality that the ending is almost here. And while I’ve recently been trying to think of it more as a beginning, I know that I do need to recognize that it is an important ending to a time of my life that has held huge meaning to me.
It was because of my job that I met my husband, in the first year – that was pretty huge. With his support and encouragement, I earned a masters degree in Creative Arts in Learning – that was really huge. I’ve received a few honors and had great opportunities along the way; I was a finalist for New Hampshire English Teacher of the Year in 2007 (that means I came in second) – that was pretty cool. I was accepted into the Vietnam Teachers Network and spent a week in Washington, DC with other teachers from all over the world, meeting experts on the Vietnam war and the “Wall” – that was powerful and very huge. I got to participate in a week-long symposium on Immigration that included a trip to New York City to visit Ellis Island and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, among other places. I have worked under some amazing principals who have encouraged me and challenged me and pushed me – and I will always be thankful for that.
Considering that I was a kid who was labeled “underachiever” in junior high school, I have been truly blessed. When I was the age of the students I teach, I didn’t know that I was smart; I had no idea of what the future would bring. It never occurred to me that I was capable of doing the things that I have done, and I have tried to instill in my students that they, too, can accomplish much more than they think possible.
Now the time has come for me to focus on the future. I have written a book about my teaching that is presently under consideration by a reputable publishing company, and I have more books in my head that I can’t wait to get started on. My husband and I will hit the road in July on a three-month road trip that will take us to places we want to revisit and places on our bucket lists we have not yet seen. After years of teaching middle school students how to find and celebrate their own creativity, it’s now time for me to play and celebrate my own creativity.
Life is good, even when it’s hard. Even when there’s a little blip on the Richter scale that knocks me off my feet. And for all that, I am thankful.