The last time I delved into this topic, it was mostly about when life doesn’t go according to plan in the disappointing-kinds-of-ways. When I wrote that post, it was at the beginning of a year that I desperately didn’t want to have – the kind where I’d opened my tightly clenched fists and reluctantly returned to a place I knew didn’t want to go: public school teaching.
I started the year teaching at a charter school that lived up to all the negative press you see about charter schools and, after only three weeks in, started applying for other jobs. Serendipitously, one of those jobs came through and I moved to a new school a few months into the year. It ended up being the kind of public school that give public schools a good name. I loved the staff, (most of) the students, and the administration. Grateful for an innovative (and sane) work environment with stellar colleagues, I set about convincing myself that I could make high school teaching work for awhile.
But deep down, I longed to return to the university. I was tired of spending all-day-in-the-classroom feeling like a horse-and-pony show for 14 & 15 year olds. I craved a role where I could develop a program, foster one-to-one (instead of one-to-37) relationships, and engage in more intellectually complex work. As the year progressed, it became clear to me that my return to public education wasn’t a long term fit and that I wanted to pursue a return to higher education.
When a job at the local university posted at the end of the school year, friends who knew my story encouraged me to apply. At first I resisted, licking my wounds from previous rejections and lack of other job application responses. Slowly, though, my friends helped me see that this job might actually be a good fit, the thing I was looking for all along. I applied, and long story short, I started the position last week.
I don’t normally share such normal-details-of-life here on Between Worlds, but it felt pertinent to write about it this because this blog is one of the steps along the way that pointed me to this spot. When we moved to California and finding full time work was slow, I filled the empty spaces with writing. It helped me process and heal from the pain of our isolated life in the Midwest, connected me to likeminded people all over the world, and deepened my understanding of the craft. As all of these things happened, my identity as a writer sunk deep. My husband and I would talk about what it might look like to move from an education-focused career to a writing-focused one but couldn’t ever fully connect those dots – that is, until just recently when I accepted a position as the director of a university writing center.
It’s been one of those “when-what-I-thought-would-happen-didn’t” moments – except this time for the better instead of worse. Every so often I find myself feeling like an outsider, looking down just grinning at myself, wondering how all of this happened. While I wouldn’t have dared to dream it even a year ago, it’s a perfect fit for this phase of my life and career – one that I couldn’t have orchestrated myself.
In Madeline L’Engle’s novel Certain Women, the characters grapple with the harsh realities of the death of a loved one. “The wise old woman said that one road led to a funeral and the other to a wedding,” remembers one woman as she reflects on an old friend’s ability to continually lean toward joy in spite of great tragedy.
The characters ponder the implications of the choice they’ve made more often: the wedding or the funeral. This inevitably leads them to grapple with the imminent death of the loved one that has brought them all together.
“But when Papa dies” – Louis’s voice was choked – “how can we choose the wedding?”
Sophie laughed. “By giving him an enormous great grand glorious funeral at the Cathedral, a real show for all his family and friends and fans. And by going on living, living better because we’ve been part of his life than if we’d never known him.”
In light of my current circumstances, their conversation reminds me that I far too often see my current realities as a funeral instead of a wedding. Those teenagers who made me so-very-tired? They weren’t an end, but merely a door through which I found the next step. The life-giving immigrants at the dysfunctional ESL program? Their perseverance in the throes of a new start shouted resilience amidst tragedy and whispered joy in small things. That blog I wrote when I was brand new and quietly healing? It wasn’t the end destination, but merely a bend in the path pointing me toward the next clearing.
While the clearing opened slowly (3 years, 5 jobs, 13+ interviews, too many tears, and who-knows-how-many-blog-posts later), the view is stunning for the moment and leaves me grateful for the unexpected beauty of the life-lessons that show up when what I thought would happen doesn’t.