For the past several days I’ve had this strange feeling, an internal itch, a sense of tension or pressure. It’s this feeling that there’s something important and time-sensitive that I should be doing. I don’t mean taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the holiday decorations and writing thank you notes. (I do still have all of these tasks ahead of me). I also don’t mean the annual project of offering my aspirations for the new year. (Already aspired—check!).
What’s interesting is that my recurring feeling is accompanied by the thought that by not doing whatever it is that I’m not doing, I’m also not fulfilling my responsibilities – and my deepest longings — in some consequential and profound way.
Today is Thursday, and as I write this, it is 2:00 p.m. I’ve had a low-key, slow day. My gut is off and I feel “puny,” as we say in my family when we aren’t feeling our best physically. I just finished washing the dishes. Before washing the dishes, I took a nap. Before I took a nap, I wrote some emails—mostly professional, some personal. Before that, I did a market and collected the mail and made my daughter breakfast (she heads back to college early Saturday morning). After I write this post, I’ll take Happy-the-dog for a walk. And after that, who knows? Perhaps I’ll read. (I have a pile of books given to me as holiday gifts.) Or watch something? I just cancelled some much anticipated plans for later, so the late afternoon and evening are open and full of possibilities.
Feeling puny or not, usually on a Thursday afternoon, I’d be preparing to teach my afternoon class at 3:15. On this particular Thursday afternoon – the first Thursday afternoon of winter term 2016 – I should be preparing for and anticipating teaching the first session of one of my gerontology seminars. Last winter it was Theorizing and Researching in Gerontology. This winter term, I was scheduled to teach Women’s Issues in Aging.
As I write this, I am realizing that I have fulfilled one of my usual pre-class preparatory rituals; I took a nap. (Naps for me are a central practice for restoring and focusing my energy, as well as managing anxiety and nervousness.) And I’ve been thinking and reading about the kinds of things I have always – for more than half of my life! — thought about and read in preparation for a new term of teaching.
But unlike every winter term since 1997, I won’t be stepping into a Marylhurst University classroom at 3:15 today. I wonder if part of my puniness today is a result of the uncertainty I feel, not knowing if ever again I’ll have the honor of creating and nurturing a learning community, of engaging in deep collaborative inquiry as a teacher-learner? (In response to this question, my heart jumps up-and-down in affirmation. And suggests that, perhaps, I am also feeling some grief.)
This past December 23rd, I celebrated my 49th birthday and ushered in my 50th year on the planet. Two days before my birthday I celebrated the end of my long career as a member of the Marylhurst faculty.
I made the decision to leave a place, its people, and a calling to which I have devoted myself for almost two decades.
What I had to do began to become real to me on August 28th, 2015. It was one of those decisions, like leaving any significant long term relationship, that only now I am beginning to realize I’d actually begun preparing myself to make well before I was able to consciously contemplate making it. Quite possibly I stayed in my relationship with Marylhurst for longer than was good for either of us, but you know how love can be, yes? But by walking away, quite possibly I’m giving up something that I’ll never be able to find again.
And yet, and yet.
As brutal as the experience was of getting to the point of this irreversible and life-altering decision, as much as it hurt (for me and for others), once I was on the edge of the decision, it felt inevitable and transgressive and emancipatory and – strange word, I know – graceful.
Sometimes when we love someone or something, we stay. Sometimes we stay for a very long time (almost 19 years!). And sometimes when we love someone or something, we leave.
And leap off the edge of the known universe.