I had dinner last night with friends at a little family-owned Italian restaurant in Sacramento, Mama Susanna's. It's the kind of unpretentious place with homey, comforting food, red checked vinyl tablecloths, and waiters who will leave you alone to talk for as long as you want to stay. It was about nine thousand degrees outside last night, and inside the restaurant it was about seven thousand, give or take. But the food was delicious and the company was relaxed and funny--a nice mix of teaching friends, about half of whom won't be returning in the fall because they've retired. Sad for me, happy for them. I came home--as always--grateful to know so many women at different stages of their lives, and grateful to work (and have worked) with so many smart people. It is an incredible blessing to me to have so many models of strong women around me, and to glean as many tidbits on mothering, traveling, teaching, gardening, cooking, and living from them as I can.
As everyone updated each other on what's happening in their lives, I started to think about timing. For so many people I know who have retired from teaching in the last few years, it seems retirement has come as a lucky break of timing. Sure, they've known beforehand that the freedom of not driving in to work every day, not presenting the same lessons over and over, and not dealing with angry parent phone calls (or the BS that comes with education) will be wonderful. But it seems like many, many of my friends have had family, health, or emotional issues to deal with soon after they've left work. Being retired has allowed them to give their full attention to some important real life concerns. And it seems like the timing just works out.
I'm keeping this in perspective as I start the school year. Not that I can let myself think about retirement yet, even in a general way. (There's no sense in trying to count down the next 27-ish years. That would be insane.) But it makes me think about the blessings of timing in my own life, and how often it happens that difficult times come in waves that recede before they approach again. How generally, even when it feels like I've got too much on my plate to handle, I can manage it if I just try to get through each day on its own. It made me think about how relatively lucky I've been in terms of what I haven't had to deal with while I'm in school and teaching school. And as we talked last night about how there seems to be an every-other-year pattern to classroom difficulties, I thought about how real life does the same thing. It can't always be great or always be shitty. The timing works out and somehow you get through it the way you're supposed to.
The end of last school year was horrible for me. I was exhausted from my MFA work. K was retiring and I was scared about what that would be like. I felt like my teaching was under more scrutiny than it had ever been. I was having panic attacks in my car at lunch. I wasn't sleeping. I'd take Hurley for walks at night and just wander around the path by the creek with a dazed look on my face. I was tired and emotional. Then for most of the summer, E and I were tiptoeing the line of careful negotiation of some difficult issues in our marriage. Nothing interesting, just the kind of normal people living-in-one-house drama that can easily snowball into big upsets and hurt feelings. We've been working and working and working on our relationship and that kind of "working" makes me feel sometimes like hiding under a blanket because I can't give it any more energy. That kind of working--at home and with professionals--is sometimes ugly even when it's valuable or making a difference. Most of the time I think counseling is a wonderful thing; and then sometimes I think counseling is an awful and torturous exercise. I feel the same way about trying to sort out a fight at home, or trying to be the kind of person who forgives and asks for forgiveness. And just like the spring, all of our home frustrations left me feeling tired and emotional.
Much of my anxiety is rooted in the fact that I'm a constant pattern-reader, and I have a dependable habit of assuming that whatever has been will continue to be. When things are good, this is fine. But after life has been more difficult, I worry and worry that it will be bad again and I won't be able to take it. And I do an awesome job of worrying until I spin myself up to the point where I start feeling awful. And then BOOM, panic attacks. So per my usual, I've been tying myself up into knots about the coming school year, because I'm terrified it wil be as emotionally difficult as last year. I've been pretzeling myself inside, worrying that E and I will head right back into the rut we dug this summer. But neither has to be the case. And chances are, neither will be.
Of course I can't find the specific one now, but somebody pinned an Eckhart Tolle quote on Pinterest the other day that talked about living in the moment, about how living in the past or worrying or hoping about the future just basically makes you miserable. I read The Power of Now a long time ago and even though it's not a great book and it's a bunch of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, it helped me with my anxiety a whole lot.
Not that quote, but just as relevant.