Sunday, July 31, 2016

A different kind of August

A few days ago, I was sitting with old friend on my dock catching up on each others’ lives.  He told of a common friend who was suffering from the stress of overwork. He looked at me and said, “I don’t get it. It’s just a job. They can get along without me, you, anybody. Even the most important work is not more important than your life. You only get one.” Maybe because I am grieving the loss of my sister, maybe because that little mite has been already nibbling at my brain and my heart, those words struck hard on me as if TO me, and I remembered what I said back in June when my sister passed. It came to me strong and clear. “ Never waste a day.”


As July grinds out its last hours into August, we are all reminded that when it comes to the short Alaskan summer, we must truly never waste a day during this warm and bountiful time. August for me, feels like September in the lower latitudes.  Here on the southern coast we can expect only a couple of warm days and the rest are apt to be wet.  In the old days, this wet could continue through September into the dark and bleak October - - but let’s not go there.  August feels like September because schools are starting, state fairs are opening, and the lush green of our Alaska summer has begun to wilt. The fireweed has gone to seed or soon will, the pushki will bloom and die, and cottonwoods are shedding their leaves — a phenomenon I have already witnessed this week.  

For as many years as I can remember, the first of August has heralded the coming of the school year.  For the twenty years I spent as student, August was a warning that the school doors would soon open and the entire focus of my days would change.   Usually, I looked forward to that, always eager for something new.  The novelty of summer was gone and now school was ahead like an unopened box from the mail order house. 

When I started teaching, August meant the beginning of a mental shift from dad, farmer, boatsman, fisher, and builder to Teacher. My body was still in summer life but my mind was on school. I loved that. I loved that I loved teaching and enjoyed the planning and scheming that teaching required. Madelyn would always recognize when I made the shift, often before I did. She would watch me grow quiet and distracted while working through the casual routine of summer life, whether child and house tending or B&B minding, Dan was going through the change to becoming Mr. Walker. 

When I retired from the public school, I took a college teaching job, and again in August my mind began the transition, not only to teaching but new and different teaching in a place very different.  When I made the switch from the classroom to mentoring and the school improvement coaching, I wasn’t teaching but I was still in that ‘school’s coming gear-up mode’ and come the end of July, my obligations and mindset once more switched to schools and teaching. But this year is different. 

August is mine. Only once that I can remember, since I was six years old, have I been free of the August mind shift. In 1991, we took a year off when the kids were young and romped around the southwest. That is the only time until now that I wasn’t looking forward to school starting. This year, pivotal for so many reasons, I looked up and August was before me. The shift began, the calendar appeared, education emails began to land in the in-box. For the first time, I didn’t answer the call. The appeal was not in me, the endorphins that create excitement and anticipation didn’t flow.  I was not drawn as I was year after year.  Sometimes I needed a change but I was always filled with anticipation for the new year, new students, new projects, new challenges. Not this year, this year the anticipation came in the form of a gut-ball of dread that burdened me like I was wearing a weight belt.

I had to say, no.  I had to tell myself over and over, “It’s just a job.  Never waste a day!  You can’t give anything when you don’t have it to give anymore.”  So I move on into August without school, August without planning for school, meeting for school, getting ready for school, crazy, wearing-no-pants school dreams disrupting my sleep.  I am filled with a new excitement, a fresh anticipation, a different kind of August. 


9 comments:

  1. Awww... The August of our mind! Some day I will be there with you, no longer dreaming of "being late and not remembering where to go ". My hat is off to you and your new unknown future. I'm staying a bit longer in the field of education because I am just getting a kick out of the kids. Last year I asked my first graders to write a reflection on what they learned that day. One of my students wrote, "I learned that my imaginary friend Findley likes chicken legs!" Comments like this remind me how precious the last few years of my career is to me. I love the way kids think. I imagine I won't be much longer in the world of education and am anticipating what the next adventure will be. Enjoy your transition! Fran

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    1. You know Fran if I didn't have the writing I'd probably go back to the classroom. Up close and personal it was a rich time! I love you have the energy and passion for it!

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  2. I'm so happy for you Dan! Seize the minutes of everyday to come as they are so sweetly prescious.My mindset changed about work 12/14 and I have never been happier!Love to Mady*

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  3. I'm so happy for you Dan! Seize the minutes of everyday to come as they are so sweetly prescious.My mindset changed about work 12/14 and I have never been happier!Love to Mady*

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    1. I wrote and posted by my computer: Never Waste a Day!. Some times we have to look into void to know it's there.

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  4. Congratulations, Dan, for making the move! I'm pretty sure we haven't heard the last of you yet, and I look forward to what's in store next. Best Wishes...it's been a pleasure being your colleague! ~C

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    1. Thanks Cathe' I honor your endurance!

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  5. The timing of this piece is impeccable. After 16 years, I quit teaching one year ago and miss it every day, but I quit to be more present to my OWN children and involved in their lives. I have struggled all Spring and Summer this year wondering what to do, is it time to go back to teaching? I have worked so hard for so long to quit this close to the finish line, right? Their little faces looking back at me as I share with them how I am feeling and they tell me to follow my heart - but they ARE my heart. The August transition may be exactly what is causing so much struggle in my heart these days, but your article has given me exactly what I have been looking for - a peace in knowing that I only have one life, my kids only have one mom, and I only have one opportunity to spend this time with them. You always were one of my favorite teachers, and a big part of that is the wisdom you imparted in me from a very young age. Thank you.

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    1. Toni, Your words are kind. I was sad a bit when I saw you stepped away from teaching, but you did a good thing. lParenting is hard, important work. And we well know that some people don't realize that commitment. Madelyn mentioned the other day how your family is one that invested in the their kids and produced a lot of strong women. You make us proud.

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