(I was going to name this post, “Midlife Crisis,” but it sounded too dramatic; and anyway I’m not sure that’s accurate. More like a “Midlife Awakening.” I hope I’m not being too navel-gaze-y here…)
Not long ago I realized something about myself: Whatever I happen to be doing at any given moment, I tend to throw myself into it with my entire being (except housework) . I’ve been this way most of my adult life, and I guess I never realized it. I’m not sure if this is a virtue or a vice, because I think it’s caused me to burn out in some cases. My first job after college was as a teaching assistant working with special education kids. I loved it. I was in a small school, a tight-knit community of mostly low-income families. I bonded quickly with the kids and the other teachers at the school, especially the special education teacher who I worked closely with. I took on a second job for a few months that year as a checker at a grocery store, which (to my surprise) I enjoyed. The following year I was hired as a kindergarten teacher at the same school, and went on to teach first grade the year after that. My job was my whole life. Sure, I spent the weekends with my family and went to church, and even started teaching Sunday School (which I also loved and threw my whole self into), but it was teaching that consumed me. I met my future husband during this time as well, and since he lived in another state, every other weekend we made every effort to be together. Oh, and this was around the time I got it into my head that I wanted to join the Peace Corps (I didn’t, and frankly I’m glad; because if I had I wouldn’t be married to the man I love or have given birth to my boys. And I probably wouldn’t be Catholic, either). For a while I wasn’t liking my job much, and when I moved to Maryland to be closer to Joe and got a teaching position there, it took me a few years to find a good balance between work and my personal life (and life was pretty stressful at that time too–what with getting married and starting a family and all). Just when I was starting to enjoy my job again, I had a baby and stepped away from teaching for nine years.
I threw myself into raising my kids, and those are years I will treasure forever. For the last several years (to make a long story short) I have worked part time in various school settings, and looking back I realized I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into that as well. This time, fortunately, I haven’t burned out. Perhaps because the hours have been short enough that I can devote some time to my family and myself and stay relatively sane; or maybe as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to manage my time, to trust in God, and not to worry so much about certain things beyond my control. And I’m learning to say “no.” I think that’s a biggie.
I’m not sure why I am telling you all this. Six years ago I started blogging, and whenever anyone asked me what my hobbies were, it was the first thing on my list. My family bought me a DSLR camera one year for Christmas, and I started to develop a passion for photography. Of course, I’ve never done anything with my photos except post them on my blogs and on social media (and occasionally print them for Christmas cards and calendars), but that’s about it. Yesterday I downloaded eighty-four pictures from my camera, and every single photo is of the kids at the preschool where I work. There was not one of my own family, or anything non-work related. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I do know I tend to take pictures of people and things that I love and find interesting and beautiful. (Not that I don’t love my family and I haven’t seen beauty in other things; but for some reason I haven’t felt inspired to take a photo of them in the last month or two.)
A couple of years ago in the third grade religion textbook I was teaching from (something I’ve had to say “no” to recently–teaching CCD, which I love and hope to do again eventually), the question was asked, “What makes you feel alive?” I don’t remember the objectives of the lesson at that time; perhaps it was the chapter on how God made us and gave us life. Maybe it was about how he made us different from the animals by giving us a soul and the ability to reason and wonder and love. Anyhow, I asked the kids to write or draw pictures of something that made them feel alive. For some, it was playing soccer; for others, it was helping Mom cook dinner. Ever since, I’ve been asking myself that question: exactly what makes me feel alive? And what does that mean, anyway? An activity that is exhilarating or exciting? Something that gives me a great sense of accomplishment or satisfaction? Something that gives me a profound sense of calmness and peace?
Not long after I started pondering these things, I started a series of lists (I’m not sure why, maybe I’m entering my midlife crisis and feel a need to rediscover myself) of various things that I enjoy doing, things that make me feel “alive,” and things that I want to accomplish. That last one is a doozie because they’ll require work on my part to make them happen. I find myself looking at them from time to time, occasionally adding and deleting things, and moving things from one list to the other. Here’s a small sample:
THINGS THAT MAKE ME FEEL ALIVE
Teaching others about the faith, especially children
Learning new things, especially about my Catholic faith
Being out-of-doors, especially when moving
Attending a live performance (play, concert, etc)
Reading a good book
Time spent with friends and family
Being at Mass. Seriously. At least most of the time, except maybe when I’m tired and want to sleep.
THINGS I ENJOY (Am I less passionate about these things than the ones on the first list? I’m not sure.)
geocaching–this involves being outside and moving (see alive list)
skiing–also involves being outside and moving (see alive list)
taking photos and sharing them
My job at preschool.
(About that last one…I was somewhat surprised at myself for putting my job on my “enjoy” list instead of my “alive” list, and I made ANOTHER list–which I’ll spare you the boredom of reading–of things that would help my work make me feel alive instead of just something I enjoy; first and foremost “Love each as a child of God,” as well as among other things, “convey a sense of wonder for the world around us and for God.” Oh, and update the school’s Facebook page more often. I think it’s just about ready for that promotion, to tell you the truth.)
My passions have tended to wax and wane over the years. A passion for blogging and photography became something I enjoy doing from time to time. A loathing for running became a passion–although, the funny thing is, sometimes I still loathe it. Just not enough to quit just yet. I hope that one sticks. Fortunately my passion for Jesus and all things Catholic hasn’t diminished–even though my efforts to deepen my relationship with God are often pretty pathetic or even nonexistent. My passion for life at all stages and my desire to do more to promote the dignity of all human life is as strong as ever–even though I have never done enough.
So, my dear readers, I guess my point is this:
My hopes and dreams are many, even more numerous than when I was younger, I think. They’re constantly evolving and changing; some dreams growing, others fading into the background but not entirely vanishing. When I’m blogging, I’m sharing the snippets of my life–or in this case, my rambling thoughts–about things I hold most dear, the things I enjoy, and that make me feel alive. When I’m not blogging, I hope I’m spending my time on things that nurture my passions. (Or maybe I’ve just read something that makes my blood boil, or brings tears to my eyes, and I’m at a loss for how to put those feelings into words. Or I just don’t want to start an argument–which is a cop-out, I know. I’ll try and do better.) Anyhow, perhaps someday I’ll share with you the lists I made of my hopes and dreams and goals–and how I hope to achieve them.
Now if only I could develop a serious passion for housecleaning…