Saturday, August 24, 2013

Upon Not Returning to School

With Candice (a former student who became
a friend and colleague) at her housewarming party.

My whole life I've been either a teacher or a student. As my friends fill their Facebook pages with pictures and stories of the return to school, I've become acutely aware that this is the first fall in more than forty years I'm not returning too.

Yes, at 50 it's an early retirement. I'm not retiring in the classic sense, though, which is reflected in the word's etymology: French for withdrawing into safety and seclusion.

In fact, my leap into retirement has been the opposite: relinquishing our home to live a traveling life. Not seclusion but reaching out into the world by immersing in experiences and writing about them.

And then the unexpected: seizure, brain tumor, surgery, healing. What timing. If I'd been going through all of this while having to think about what to do with my classes ... and to make sure my medical benefits stayed in tact ... and to plan to enter the semester partway through ... Well, that just would have been no fun for me or the students.

This timing has been amazing for other reasons. Instead of being in Hawaii this fall, we are in the Bay Area for my treatment and recovery. So I'm getting to spend time with some of my colleagues, who are also good friends. This is softening the transition of leaving the professorial tribe.

The other thing that has happened is this: As news has spread about my health, former students have been inspired to contact me, flooding me with appreciation. Many didn't even know I'd planned to retire. This conversion of forces is a thing of beauty. I'm feeling the love. Big time. I've received many special messages.  Here's one that especially touched my heart:

Dear Kate,
I don't get on Facebook much, so please forgive me for being behind, but I now understand you've been through quite an experience. I'm glad you are healing well and hope you continue to do so.
You might not remember me, as you've probably had hundreds of students since we were last in touch, but to this day I cherish having had you in my life. To borrow from The Artist's Way, you were a champion of my creative self-worth, and to borrow from a credit card commercial, that's priceless! All the while, you were always a model on how to soak up life, even in hard times, of which you've had more than your fair share. I don't understand life, but because of you I better understand how to love it.

If I inspired one person to love life, I'd say my days of teaching have been well spent.

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