Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Nice Place to Be

silviarita via Pixabay
Yesterday, I had the honor and pleasure of attending a retirement lunch. To call it a luncheon is to overstate it; it was, as most teacher functions during the school day are, a take-out food and sheet cake extravaganza held in the school cafeteria.

But the food didn't matter. The company did.

It was the first time in several years I'd been back to the elementary school where I spent the last nineteen years of my career. The entry had changed, reflecting the greater need for security that all schools are feeling in light of the uptick in shootings but, once inside, I felt as though nothing had changed at all.

It was beyond wonderful to see everyone again, to watch the bittersweet tributes created to celebrate those who were retiring, to share in hugs and conversations and catch up on one another's lives. I've stayed connected to a number of people, but have fallen out of touch with a number of others, and there was much catching up to do. Yesterday afternoon, two hours flew by and the seven years between my last day of school and theirs evaporated.

During a post-lunch conversation, one of the teachers asked me if I "missed it." I hesitated, and that moment of silence was enough to trip both of us up. He chivalrously covered, citing the passage of time and how it had probably allowed me to move beyond missing my former career, while I stuttered and struggled, trying to find my way past the "no" that immediately rose to my lips. I was at once so happy to be back in that room with all of those people and so ready to leave at the end of the event and return not to a classroom that had to be cleaned out, but a whole list of other responsibilities I'd carved out for myself in the seven years since I'd walked out those front doors for the last time.

I apologized for sounding hard-hearted and told him the truth -- that I missed the people -- the wonderful colleagues buzzing around the room as we spoke, absorbed in hugs, reminiscences and goodbyes. I ticked off things I didn't miss at all (code red drills, restraint training).

It was a complicated question.

Now, seven years from my last day in that building, I'm working at least as hard -- and some days harder -- than I did then. But I have more freedom. More flexibility. More autonomy.

Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Today, still absorbed in the glow of reconnecting, I miss the people all over again, and a part of me always will. Freedom, flexibility and autonomy are great things, but so is human connection. During my tenure as a school counselor, I worked in three different districts, each one dramatically different from the others, but with one thing in common: a core group of dedicated, big-hearted professionals who took care of not only the kids, but each other as well.

I love my life now, though it's very different from the life I loved then. I have more time for pursuits beyond the classroom -- like writing -- but less real-world contact with other people. That contact is double-edged, its presence and its absence both exhausting and exhilarating -- and while I miss the exhilaration, the persistent tug at my sleeve that was part of my job as an elementary school counselor's is something I willingly left behind.

pixel2013 via Pixabay
Today, a feel a swell of gratitude once again for all those incredible people who made my time at school so much more than just a job, but I also know that I am where I am supposed to be. Do I want to do a better job of keeping in touch, planning lunches, checking in? I do. But today, I can honestly say that I'm grateful in equal parts for where I was, where I am, and where (I think) I'm going.

And that's a pretty nice place to be.

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