Monday, May 22, 2006

Facing Retirement

I am retiring from 39 years of public school teaching this Friday, May 26, 2006. It’s a daunting thought to leave Rich East, which has been my teaching home for 36 years. I still believe I have years of teaching to go, but my daily commute involves an hour drive twice a day. Needless to say, the wear and tear on my body and my car is considerable. And after 11 years of it, I need to move into a new phase of my life.

Among the students I teach were seniors who were also facing this expulsion from the womb with a view with trepidation. The last day of class I gave them my words of wisdom… what I’ve learned in the process can be summarized in the following ideas:

Man is a sum of his actions. So say Sartre and Camus in defining existentialism. It is our actions which make clear who we are, not our dreams nor our thoughts. I tell the students a story I read sometime in the distant past (I think it was by Guy Du Maupassant, but don't hold me to it). In the story, a man knows his soul is black, something others would not like. So he dons a mask in public and wears it all the time. The mask is that of a man of virtue—and he goes about doing good constantly, but he know that in his heart he is not. He never takes the mask off. When the man dies his mask is removed—and his face has become the mask. His actions made him who he was... and the man of good was so because he acted like a man of good.

“Acceptance on someone else’s terms is worse than rejection” (Mary Cassatt). For years I spent my life trying to be who others wanted me to be—and the most common feeling I had was discontent because of it. It was not until I broke with my past and began living on my own and accepting who I was that I could really appreciate Cassatt’s advice.

Life is all about change. The world we inhabit changes constantly. As Samuel Beckett says—it oozes and it flows. We sluff off layers of skin; the sun changes position; and the rocks get worn away a little bit more. Relationships daily redefine themselves. And we move forward because that’s the only direction we can go. If we’re lucky, we can smile in the process of following that move.

So when I say goodbye to the room which has been my strength for the last 14 years and the students which have sustained me for much over twice as long, I hope to move on with a sense of awe and wonder at this new chapter in my life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To My Hero,
A man through his actions made a huge impact on my life and the lives of my family. Without you at our side we could not have made it. Your retirement is only another chapter to yet a glorious life. One filled with love, color, smiles and laughter. Don't let anyone or anything hold you down. You'r the best!