In 2016, when the school had the “end of year faculty dinner” at the Clarion in Ocean City, I received the perfect attendance award along with a few other teachers. I only missed two or three days in eighteen years that I was teaching, one was for Nicole's wedding. I always felt a little sheepish getting the award since I only had students one or two days a week but they always called me up to get the award with the full-timers. This year Dr. Tull called me back to the podium and said some real nice words and gave me a retirement award. When I turned, I saw my colleagues and their families in attendance were standing. I don’t remember ever getting a standing ovation before so that was a first! Gwendolyn had tears in her eyes when I got back to my seat at our table.
In the summer, we worked on the yard at our house in Lansdowne. We read books, and we went to the beach occasionally in the afternoons. After some consideration we bought a little, red VW beetle convertible. We went for drives in the evenings when the sun was setting. 2016 was an especially hot summer. We even drove to Hagerstown and DC with the top down. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed it!
Retirement sometimes seems like a bit of a scam. It’s nice to have the freedom to do as you please and plan your day. However, I mostly feel that I am physically and mentally capable of working. I am seventy and Gwendolyn will be seventy in a few months. Fortunately, we are both in reasonably good health. Thanks to modern medical science we have both received good care. Gwendolyn has been painting acrylic abstracts and I have been writing. I have made a few paintings and photographs over the summer. We both read every day. I prefer fiction and short stories.
Gwendolyn had a show of her paintings and photographs at the Ocean City Art Center and contributed the money from sales to the scholarship fund established in her name. Each year at least $1,000 is awarded to a Stephen Decatur graduate continuing to study theatre.
2016 has been a year of troubling world and national events. In the Middle East there are wars that directly effect the safety of millions of people. There are more desperate immigrants than are being helped. It was an election year in the US. The campaigns were long and filled with shallow, embarrassing debates and accusations. Somehow a crude and brutish billionaire, who had no previous experience in government, was elected president. He did not receive the majority of the votes but the system of electoral college made him the new president. It’s a dark time for the country.
As our grandsons grow into their independence, it has more difficult to connect with them. I hope I have been a positive presence for them but I wonder what it is that I represent. I think about the difficulty in spanning the years and communicating the love I have for them. I often felt that I was a contradiction. Sometimes I was patient and accepting and at other times I was dismissive and critical. I hope my best qualities are the only ones they remember. For some reason, that I do not understand, my relationship with Simon and Toby was more complicated than I wanted it to be. I just wanted to be a light and a refuge for them. If only I could always be that way! Nicole has always been a light for me. I love Nicole and her family.
I spent time over the summer months in 2016 writing this memoir. As I continue writing and editing, it is transitioning from memoir to journal.
This process of writing about myself and experiences, as I remember them, leads me to reflect on the purpose and meaning of the process. I started writing because I have been aware that I had little understanding of my parents and literally no information of my grandparents other than a few anecdotes. Now, at the age of seventy, I still have the capacity to remember and the time to write. I am fully aware that I only remember a fraction of the events of the past twenty-five thousand days. Much of what I forgot may be more important than what I remember. That leads to the question, do we forget events because they are unimportant or do we forget by choice? Some memories are vivid because I have replayed them in my mind or retold them to family and friends. Some are based on familiar photographs that I have studied and imagined the events before and after the moment was captured. A few memories that I have replayed in my mind are too troubling to recount. I wish I had the key to unlock lost memories so I could take them out and consider their worth and then maybe lock them away again. Things are not always what they seem to be and no matter how well we know even our closest friends and family, there is much that is unknowable. I have come to accept that nothing is complete, precise and finished for me. I live with what is. The memories I would most like to retrieve are 1973 - 1980, the years when I spent a lot of time at home with Nicole. I am happy with the memories that I do have, even the memories that are a little troubling, like the day I eavesdropped outside her bedroom door and heard her scolding her doll baby. Spending time with her in her early development has certainly been a most important and rewarding activity for me. The pictures we painted, the photographs we made, the stories and trips to the library and the parks. While she was learning, I was learning as well!
How important is the inner life, much of which I lacked the courage or words to express? The inner life is sometimes inexplicable and yet there is a desire to find an outlet. For this, I have turned to photography, painting and poetry. I have had little desire to sell my art and often I visualize an idea and never put it on paper. If I produce a photograph or a painting that I do not understand, yet find intriguing, I accept that work as honest and important.
While this is a simple narrative of a life, I look for a common thread. Did I become who I am because of my experiences or are my experiences a result of who I am? To a large degree, the direction and the events in my life were a result of my family and the few significant people that I met. I could have rejected my family and those important people could have been ignored or remained casual friends. I maintained contact with my immediate family and I chose some friends and others chose me. I was fortunate to have strong, wise and generous people who appeared at the right time. I have always enjoyed the company of intelligent and generous people. People who were interesting and I could learn from.
I often seemed to be working above my ability. I have accepted opportunities to do work without sufficient qualifications and launched into projects without adequate experience. I have broken things because of impatience or ignorance and I embarrassed myself many times by expressing opinions without sufficient information. I do not deliberately model my work after anyone I know, but I do study the best work I can find and aspire to work at that level. I have never been completely satisfied with my work and have mostly made peace with that dissatisfaction.
Somewhere along the line I decided that compromise works when both parties benefit to a larger degree with the compromise than without. That realization helped me make peace with the imperfections inherent in all relationships.
I am grateful that I have the ability to forgive easily and to find the humor in almost any situation. I love to laugh and do not mind laughing at myself. I have not written about regret but I do regret my disregard for advanced education and the arrogance of believing I could succeed by effort and a measure of giftedness. I also regret things I have said and done that were hurtful to other people. I am now aware that my difficulty with formal education was more complicated than a mere choice. There were attention and learning difficulties as well as inadequate educational opportunities.
In the past few decades I have considered how fortunate I have been. I think that I have received more good fortune than I deserved. I am intelligent enough to appreciate the good things I have experienced without feeling too deprived of exotic adventures that were beyond my reach. I have always had fantasies that were unfulfilled, either by choice or circumstance. I have been mostly content even in difficult times.
So there it is. I expect to live a while longer but the end becomes more certain as I count the years. Thanks to medical science, I am assisted by a small electrical devise implanted under my left shoulder and wired to my heart, the pacemaker.
I love my family and Gwendolyn’s family. Nicole, Erik, Simon and Toby are a big part of who I am. I love Gwendolyn and the life that we have created together. As much as possible we do things together. We enjoy reading many of the same books, seeing the same movies and theatre performances. We often go to museums and discuss art. At home we both paint, write and take walks for exercise. Everyday I am grateful for our good health!
I am still learning and creating.