Thursday, January 6, 2011
A Christmas time look back
Bright Christmas and New Years rolling around the year again, and dear friends and family are sending beautiful cards, and fascinating newsletters full of family accomplishments. I realized I should bestir my lazy self and actually come up with something more communicative than a Jacquie Lawson e card or a cyber wave on Facebook. Friendship, I am learning, even familial friendship, needs real news to stay glossy.
So, Cesca’s year. Not quite so entertaining as those of you with large families and/or jet set lifestyles, and not even a kidnapping by good-looking pirates to report, but it was a pivotal year for me nonetheless. Last spring was my last semester of full time teaching. I started off each day, well four days, prying myself out of bed and setting off to a class of charming young to middle age mothers who studied English at Starlight elementary school in a rough but serviceable portable classroom as their children recited their ABC’s nearby. I am not a person who rises early with great enthusiasm, but it was a good way to start each day. We studied grammar and life skills vocabulary, to be sure, but we also shared lives, danced giggling and shrieking each day to 15 minutes of Zumba, watched Supernanny and discussed child raising tips, celebrated baby showers with such intriguing customs as competing to estimate the mother to be’s girth in toilet paper squares and generally became close enough friends that parting in June was truly difficult. My afternoons were a different kind of party in which I pulled out the keys to a different kingdom – I taught computer skills to seniors, and digital photography to those ready to step even further into our brave new cyber world. And wondered that anyone was actually paying me to have so much fun. Evenings, two evenings anyway, I was off to my office at Cabrillo College to prepare for a 3 hour ESL essay writing class. A little more like work, with piles of notebooks to evaluate on the weekends, but also, never dull or hard to do. Teaching has been a good path for me.
Nonetheless, I had a secret fantasy blooming inside all semester, as rosy a thought as any secret love affair. Retirement! I found myself grinning ear to ear whenever I tried to imagine it – even while swimming laps in the neighborhood pool. Smiling into the unfocused blue under water, I was adding up monthly income sources, imagining travel and writing and above all FREEDOM from the constant interruption of daily obligations as I stroked my way to the end of another lap.
And so the day came. The last spring grade was filed, the last application form sent away. And the first large retirement check sat fatly in my bank account – well large by my standards. And positively exhilarating to think they planned to keep sending them each month, whether I had worked or not.
And bless them, they have continued, and I affirm to the world that retirement – even semi-retirement – is entirely NOT over-rated. My new life requires only 3 half days of work and features four day weekends and a monthly income that may at last achieve middle class standing –though my class assignments are more tenuous now that I am low woman on the seniority totem pole at both schools. Yet so far so good. And now with Winter holidays here, I sit beaming at the prospect of 5 weeks of uninterrupted writing time.
It very nearly did not come to pass however. This has been a year when the dark angel has come close or even taken many around me – not to mention SO many unfortunates on the nightly news – and even, three times, hesitated at my door as I later learned. In August, I went traveling to see Shakespeare in Ashland with my lifetime friend Kathy and, after the long hours of driving, found myself unusually out of breath. The stairway to the lobby of our antique hotel was steep however, as are many of the hills, so I did not think too much of it. I became alarmed only weeks later, when, going out to pick up my morning paper on my own familiar stairs, I found myself forced to pant for five minutes before I recovered. Reluctantly I went off to check it out and ended the day in the hospital with a diagnosis of triple pulmonary emboli – the diagnosis that took the life of my father’s sister Irene and possibly his sister Bernice – at about my current age. The doctors had found a sizeable clot in my leg – likely a result of the long drive and having had that hip surgery in 2007. It had thrown off three small clots, any one of which could have abruptly ended life as I know it, but did not. They were trapped in my lungs and will dissolve naturally I am told. Indeed it feels like they already have. And I will be taking a blood thinner for at least 6 months to be on the safe side. All my life I have blithely assumed – with my mother’s long lived family and my father’s own successful journey all the way to 88, that I held a free pass deep into old age. I am humbler on that point now. And WAY motivated to find my way back to a healthy weight. But there are no guarantees about lifespan for any of us. How many many people wake up on a fine sunny morning, drink their coffee, start off with to do list in hand and weekend calendar full, and end on that same weekend as ashes in the sea and friends and relatives weeping for their loss? I am trying a little harder to keep that in mind and appreciate the gift of each day now. Though full health and heedless optimism have both returned for the moment.
There were other adventures this year. I had many fine dinners and/or outings with my cousins George and Patricia and local friends Janice and Elaine and Barbara and Mary and movie buddy Linsey. Dear Kathy came to Santa Cruz for a multi-day visit just last week. Jeanne and Janice came to celebrate a second Christmas after a storm delayed our original dinner. I self-published a children’s adventure novel through lulu.com and have started work on a sequel. I’m putting the finishing touches on a book of Buddhist-oriented short stories that I also may end self-publishing. (Just don’t have the patience to send out all those elaborate packets publishers love to reject with such callous abandon -so far - sigh. Don’t imagine I will achieve fame and fortune through writing, but the spirit still moves me, so we will see what happens). Another grand project is to finish digitizing family photos from both sides, and create photo books that everyone can order. Already did one on Hamp, but then discovered a treasure trove of earlier pictures that should be included. (Tobi and Leslie stay tuned!). And have been fascinated to learn more about my Fretheim and Joint family trees courtesy of my cousin David. Found myself on Google Earth standing inside one of those 360 degree bubble pictures looking down from a mile high cliff top into the immense Norweigian fjord some of my 16th century ancestors once sailed out of. So real I could almost feel the cold wind on my face and breathtakingly beautiful. Must go there some day and stand in that place for real.
I have the time at last to return to my Buddhist studies with more attention and have been overjoyed to discover two western teachers of real accomplishment (Tenzin Chokyi and Alan Wallace) who both have long years of study and intense retreats – AND degrees in science from modern universities that enable them to discuss the relationship between scientific perspectives and Buddhist insights and methods with real authority and, hopefully, may help nudge me a LITTLE further along in a good direction before I do actually kick the bucket.
My sweet mother continues to be a major focus in my life, needing a bit more care now than she did, though she is still amazingly self-sufficient and beautiful at the age of 87. Her building is only three blocks from my apartment and has an elevator, and for now serves her needs even better than living with me – though that may come to pass eventually. I have learned to let life unfold in its own patterns – it always surprises me when I most think I know what is coming next.
One cat, Freckles, has left my life (after being hit by a car on Portola) and another, the kitten Moon, has entered it. Pepper the Maine coon, has become a feline mountain but does condescend to play with the kitten, 5 seconds at a time. It is a start. And spring cometh.
I hope you too are well dear reader, and continue to be for a long long time. It is an amazing journey isn’t it?