When I choose to look back on my life, especially when describing it to others who may not know my history, I oftentimes define it using large blocks of time that more or less represent “chapters.” Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and find it easier to cover extended periods of time by lumping major life-events together, intentionally omitting the less impactful ones, all-the-while creating a somewhat cohesive narrative. Either way, I’ve noticed that those chapters tend to come in increments of 20 or so years; each one signaling the end of a particular “era” and the beginning of another.
Having recently celebrated my 60th birthday a couple of weeks ago, I once again find myself closing the proverbial book on the prior segment of life; “Chapter 3” if you will, and am ready to embark upon yet a new phase by starting to write “Chapter 4.”
Naturally, one might ask for some of the highlights that defined my previous chapter, and why I felt it necessary to “move on” from the relatively calm, predictable waters I’d been navigating up to this point. Those are certainly some valid questions.
To begin with, this prior stage began with a significant life change at age 40, when I chose to leave the safety of a corporate position I’d held for nearly two decades, in order to “make a difference in the lives of others.” Not quite sure how that would manifest, I didn’t want to rush into a new career too rapidly, so I took a year off from employment altogether.
Over the course of that transitional year, I focused on exploring my potential from a creative perspective, which, in addition to launching a home-based business, also included writing in several genres. With some encouragement and guidance from an actor/friend based in Hollywood, I quickly found myself knee-deep in the craft of screenwriting, making multiple trips to the west coast that year to work on films.
It would be a dear, long-time friend in New York that knew how well I connected with children who would bring me back down to Earth by suggesting that I pursue the noble path of becoming an educator. A position working with special needs children had opened in the public school where she worked as a speech therapist. She thought I’d be a perfect fit for the job and she was most certainly right.
Joining a seasoned team of educators whose goal each day was to empower first graders requiring additional support would indeed be a life-changer for me, both personally and professionally. It ultimately laid the groundwork for an eventual move to the Hamptons, where I soon settled in as a preschool instructor for a Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End, working with three and four-year-olds from at-risk families.
Fast forward a dozen years, and it brings us to the present, where I’ve decided to retire from performing my duties as an educator in order to focus on other things, some of which require my immediate attention.
First and foremost has been providing personal care for my 90 year-old father. As I touched upon in a previous column back in June, he needed a change of scenery prior to returning to Maine from his annual winter escape down South. So for the first time ever, we decided to rent a farmhouse for the entire summer, several miles from both of my brothers in upstate New York. Little could I have imagined that this unfurnished mid-century home, nestled upon a hill in the middle of a working dairy farm, would be the perfect setting to begin Chapter 4.
Filling the space with vintage décor, a few pieces of my mother’s artwork, and some family photos soon brought life to the otherwise drab interior of the house. The perimeter surrounding the home was truly a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, fruit trees, grape vines and overflowing beds of beautiful flowers. My father and I both agreed that cable TV and high speed internet were modern essentials that were worth passing up, distractions that seemed inappropriate for this particular experience.
Throughout the summer, sharing home-cooked, farm-to-table meals with our entire family gave us ample opportunity to catch up “in-person” with each other’s lives. It’s something that doesn’t happen too often, due to the distance between us. Of particular joy, we welcomed a new addition to the family, as my eldest niece gave birth to a baby boy in early August. That we were all able to congregate in one spot for such a special occasion made his arrival that much more fulfilling.
Did we have our share of physical and emotional challenges to overcome from one week to the next? Of course, but knowing that we were surrounded by family made all the difference in the world. It became a singular obstruction with a collective solution, one in which each of us could contribute equally.
Do I have any idea what’s in store for this next chapter? I most certainly do not. What I do know is that I hope to stay present as much as possible, and allow the narrative to write itself. I’ve always been a sucker for good endings.