A Very Personal Thanksgiving Week Blog
I have never applied for a job. I always just fell backward into them. I wanted to use a bathroom at the beach and managed a hotel for four summers; I thought I was going to an exercise class to learn to be an instructor and managed a health club for Richard Simmons; and blankets, well, there were no applications in small Mexican villages back then. Even here at Tidewater Community College where I have been a professor for twenty-eight years I started because my car broke down in the parking lot and I happened to use the phone in the Humanities Division office the day the dean, Bill De Weese, needed someone to teach some courses. In fact, I have spent most of my life falling backwards into some sort of forward motion. I would change that about myself I am sure since it simply reflects my tendency to take the path of least resistance. I just got lucky that my path ran through some cool and amazing locales.
In fact, I would change a lot about myself; the way I am with people for instance. I’m fine in front of twenty people or two hundred people—no problem, but one on one is one example of where I’m often uncomfortable, with the exception of a few very close companions. I often joke with a friend about how I don’t fit in; I’m not saying I “can’t” fit in; I’m saying I, me, inside, in my heart and soul, never feel like I fit in, like everyone else is existing in some sort of poetic unity and I can’t get my meter right so I stare in from outside. It always feels that way to me. Always. I don’t have much of a problem with that, actually. But it does demand some adjustments along the way.
For instance, here’s a pretty significant adjustment: I’m leaving TCC at the end of Spring semester. No, really.
The college made me an offer I can’t refuse, nor do I wish to. Nothing about my life, my personality, or my ambitions bends toward retiring some day at seventy-something as an English professor. I’ve gone too long now without being scared, without taking chances or reaching for something just beyond my grasp. I am about to move toward a world with a certain lack of security that I’ve had for so long; but there is another security which beckons—the security of pursuit, the comfort of knowing I’ve avoided complacency; the recognition of who I am deep inside, the person who wrestles with those tigers which come at night.
I don’t want to wake up someday at the end of someone else’s life.
I suppose now that nearly everything in my life is changing, ending, adjusting or otherwise cracking in half, it just might be easier for me to make the changes I can and accept the ones I can’t. I don’t for a second pretend I have the wisdom to know the difference. But that’s okay; unlike Frost on his immortal and misunderstood road, I’m checking out the other path; see what’s there for me. In the literary world it is understood that there is only one path but with choices along the way. But as he indicates, once we move too far down the choice we make, we don’t ever go back.
And I have no desire to go back. I can’t begin to offer thanks for how it has all gone so far. But we often fail to recognize there are constant forks in the proverbial road. And my current direction, for a multitude of reasons, simply isn’t working out anymore. People who know me well and have taken this trip with me tell me to look, really look at the amazing ride it has been. Yes, indeed, what an amazing ride. The travel, the people, and the endless opportunities.
But listen: How do we measure what we’ve done? How do we do that? Honest to God, how is that possible? By comparison? If so to what? The least among us? The greatest among us? Each other? The past? Perhaps it is in how we feel in our soul. Maybe the measure of a man is in the distance between his dreams and the efforts he puts forth to reach them. The only ideal comparison is to ourselves and how we might have done things differently, but that comparison is by virtue of nature impossible since one can never tell what might have worked out, who would have worked out, what distances we might have traveled into our wildest hopes if not for…and on and on and on in impossible measure.
Yet here I am. All the balls I’ve been juggling have now fallen; or, better said, I stepped back and let them fall. That’s okay though: I still have some balls left.
I still have it in me, as we all do no matter our age, condition, situation, or experience, to have the courage to pursue a goal instead of a path. The greatest lesson I learned on the Camino is that while the journey is the point—the lessons learned, the people met, the experiences which can never be outdone, are so obviously the point of course–without the goal of Santiago, without some cathedral in the distance, we’re just meandering aimlessly hoping to bump into something good.
It’s been a great three decades; apparently I’m good at meandering. But this path has no spires, no eventual absolution. Just because you’re good at something—really good at it—doesn’t mean you should be doing it. By that measure I should be managing a hotel or making omelets somewhere. There needs to be a fire inside, at the least some simmering always present. And just because you found a fine plateau with security and comfort and respect, doesn’t mean you are supposed to stay. I hope people don’t decide what I should have done based upon what they would have done. We do that a lot.
It might be easy to assume this rumination is to reassure myself I’m doing the right thing. Yeah, of course, and it is something I need to do daily. We all do, otherwise we really do slip back into routine, ease, and the gentle flow of life with a current created by someone upstream. It is most certainly self-reassurance. But it’s like this: I’ve been in school for twenty-eight years, and I’ve been learning about myself, what works, what doesn’t. I’ve developed aspects of my life which burned when I was young and still simmer waiting for some attention. I’ve sat inside this cinder block office tracing maps and writing essays waiting for something different to knock on the door, leaving me feeling like I’m always just “a day away from where I ought to be.”
I want to live, and that’s simply not happening here. It would have been very easy to keep doing what it is I’ve been doing for so very long without effort or worry, but it came at a cost, and I’m no longer willing to pay that price. It really is that simple. I’m just not healthy anymore in so many ways. I’m not for a second pretending it wouldn’t have been easier to stay; that most definitely would have been the path of least resistance. But I no longer have it in me to fight for complacency, to struggle with mediocrity to insure the predictable.
When I was in college my friend Sally made me a plaque. It said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”—Emerson. It isn’t difficult to see what lies behind me has been phenomenal. I could go on about journeys and writings, the people and the moments, but they all only lead me here, to now. And what is next became incomprehensibly predictable, so much in fact I could map out my life for years—years—to come. Some take comfort in that; most people rely upon that security. I can’t, refuse to, will not, am absolutely against sitting in a chair one day not too many years from now looking back and saying, “Yes, that was a comfortable life, but it wasn’t mine.”
For better or for worse, with all the anticipated struggles before me which are very present in my soul, I want to never doubt that my life was absolutely mine.
“I’ll make myself some pictures and see what they might bring. I think I made it perfectly, I wouldn’t change a thing.” –John Denver