I still recall that day in 3rd grade, as I sat in the rear of the classroom, struggling with my cursive assignment. It began with the date on the board….I don’t remember the exact day of the week, or the month, but it was the fall of 1974. I still remember thinking: “Where will I be in 1984? In 2004? It’s 1974, it’s all happening so fast!” Okay, maybe not those exact thoughts, but the fact that I still recall even thinking anything significant at age 9, while in the first weeks of 3rd grade, is amazing to me in retrospect. It was the first time I became acutely aware of the passage of the years…my years.
And so here I sit at my computer, the large-lined paper and the chalkboard are long ago and far away. It is September 5th, 2014. I never even imagined life beyond age 30. Now I can’t even imagine life beyond 49. And I’m not sure I want to. Now, more than ever, I am trying to live life by moments, rather than years. For the past 20 years, I was able to convince myself that I was aging gracefully, that I was not like my peers and family members. And I wasn’t like them, in several key aspects: No pantheon of pharmaceuticals grace my medicine cabinet. I have never been married, nor divorced. I had one child, and not while I was still in high school (I became a mother at age 35). I have been to college (several times), and finally found my career as a teacher after many years of dead-end jobs, soul-searching, and the courage to do something beyond my financial condition and “eclectic” history.
But my life is far from fairytale perfection. I am facing many challenges now that I never thought I would, not that I thought everything would be fantastic…but I did (do?) have dreams and plans. I thought I’d be a great writer by now, or dancer, or artist…maybe all three. I thought I’d live in a forest in Europe, or maybe a Hobbit-house in Ireland. I figured I would never be rich, but at least comfortable, in great health, and spiritually advanced. I believed I would save the world, in my own little way.
Instead, I am beset by niggling ailments: A lump in my left leg, loose teeth, nasty headaches, physical and mental exhaustion. I’m pretty sure I’m pre-menopausal: Moodier than my own teenaged daughter, I cry about almost anything, especially if it involves children, animals, or man’s inhumanity to man. I have no patience for anything, or anyone. Sometimes I’m downright paranoid. I’m sick to death of politics, the destruction of the planet, television, and music written past 1992. I wonder…is this just a symptom of things to come?
My Dad, who is a mere 20 years older than I, is facing the worst nightmare of the aging population of the 60s. He is alone, broke, and experiencing a myriad of health problems of his own, in a world that seems to be even more cruel and unevolved than the one he grew up in. I look at him with compassion, but find it hard to imagine what it must be like for him. I think that will change…I am sure to face much the same fate. Will I handle it better? I used to get mad at him for railing at everything around him, including his own adult children. But I am beginning to see why he does it. And that’s what I’m afraid of.
I was never the most positive person, but I have been alternating, at least for the last 10 years, between a feeling of foreboding and optimism. Sometimes I think it is because I became a mother. I think if I had not, I would have been far more nihilistic. Over the years, I have found reasons to believe in something better (in somewhat similar fashion to my parents’ generation), and took on a “detached activist” attitude about life. I studied Buddhism, tried practicing, but found even that gentle wisdom too confining. I do yoga, which helps to calm me, and eases many aches and pains, at least for a while. Mostly, it makes me more aware of my body’s limitations. I donate money and time, when I am able, to decent causes for the environment, public education, girls’ and women’s rights to healthcare and education, and the furthering of peace on Earth. But it sometimes it feels empty, because I see so little progress.
When I became a teacher, I thought it was for all the right reasons. I wanted to make a difference, one little mind at a time. I get glimmers of this daily in my interactions with students. But I am selfishly waiting for approval, for better pay, just to be regarded, noticed for my skills as an educator. And I am still waiting, wondering if I made the right decision. It is a largely thankless, ungratifying profession. What keeps me going are the kids. I cannot imagine letting them down. I create lessons to inspire love of learning, language, and the beauty in the world…even though I see very little of beauty in their future. So I live in the moment, and try to convince them that they have a future, that they are the future. I give them the love and concern I wish I had gotten from my teachers during my years in school. I do not judge them for their poverty, their learning deficits, condition or race. I am the most real with them that I can be, and I know most of them feel it. I am more myself with them than any adult I have ever known. Am I a good teacher? Yes, I still think I am. Am I flawed as a person? Most definitely, who isn’t?
So, in the midst of this “pity party”, on the verge of my 50th year on the planet, I am still searching for the meaning of it all, and my purpose here. I know that it is not that unusual. I am nothing special, in that respect. But for all the bullshit excuses I’ve made, the chances I didn’t take, the troubles I’ve seen, and knowing there are more to come…I think I am pretty alright. I may not be pretty, famous, super-intelligent, or rich, or even well-liked. But I am me…a work in progress, until the end. And as long as I know that, I can weather all the shit coming my way. Four decades and nine years later, I am yet the Seeker. I am a survivor, and an individual spiritualist. I have abilities, and frailties….just like everyone else, and not like anyone else. I have plans and dreams still in me, that refuse to die, no matter what the future throws at me. So really, nothing has changed, even as everything is changing. I am 49. Nothing new about that… just a number.