Updated: Oct 19, 2022
It's a stunning morning - finches are chasing and singing outside my window, I just filled the hummingbird feeders, and there's a feeling of promise in the air.
It's the kind of day that makes you want to live forever.
Yet, precisely because we will not live forever -- the irrefutable fact that our lives have a beginning, middle, and end -- we are gifted the opportunity to create meaning and purpose.
Not find a purpose, not follow someone else's definition of meaning, not be told what our value is by others.
I said create.
What got me on this train of thought (not that I need much prompting - I've always been philosophical - super great for being popular in school! Ha!) was seeing my partially completed drawing on my easel this morning, knowing I am heading into New York City to visit the NY Now trade show at the Javits Center.
My drawing as it looks this morning...
If you are reading this in 2022, I don't need to paint the picture -- we're all aware of the increased anxiety at this point in our world's history. I imagine you instantly understood why a trip into a crowded space in bustling Manhattan might give me existential pause.
Instead, I offer you a moment of reflection and peace.
Today I am 57 years old. I've retired early after 34 years as a classroom teacher. I adored every one of my students - particularly the rascally, irritable, shaky, quick-to-tears, surly, and march-to-their-own-drum folks. My heart grew just a bit bigger as I welcomed and got to know each person.
Over the years, as I got my sea legs as a teacher, I peeled back the layers of teaching to its roots. Back, in fact, to the Latin root of 'educare' (ed-you-CAR-ay) - which means 'to draw out.'
Why is this exciting to me? Society assumes teaching is providing information and steps to achieve mastery. Yes, this is part of teaching. But there's a profound dimension for those who are open to perceive it...
To me, the concept of educare meant my job was not installing knowledge into 'blank slates' but rather to craft a safe, supportive, and inspiring place for each student to activate their own potential.
To draw them out.
And let them create and define their meaning and purpose.
That's a joyful legacy. I estimate that I've taught at least 10,000 people, ranging from age 3 to late 80s, in classrooms, conferences, conventions, convenience stores (yes - I'm known to have powerful and vulnerable conversations nearly anywhere!) and church basements.
I'm beyond proud of my career legacy.
But wait - there's more! I was lucky enough on this planet to be a mom. This was never part of my life plan. I was persuaded to make the leap, and it scared me more than anything I've ever done. The rewards were greater than anything I could have imagined.
My daughter has a life-long immune compromised condition that first showed up when she was six weeks old. There is nothing more awful than seeing your loved one suffering. The courage developed by parents and their children coping with a difficult condition over time is worth more than any war medals.
To all my fellow parents who shepherd their child through arduous times of chronic pain, I see you, and my heart is with yours.
Now my daughter is 25 and has fully taken the reins of her life. She is having adventures, learning life lessons, and meeting extraordinary people.
I could not have created this life for her - her life is her own creation. As with the classroom idea of 'educare' my job as mom was to provide (imperfectly as I did) a place where she could step into herself with true love and confidence.
Anything she achieves is her own to claim. I love her fierce independent spirit, but more than that, I love her with every cell in my being and soul.
Back to my in-progress drawing. It hit me that if something happens to me today, that drawing will never be done. It made me wistful.
Then I went a bit deeper.
I thought about times I've seen unfinished works in museums. It's actually inspiring to see an artist's partially done works. It lets you in, through the cracks of incompletion, to see the artist's mind, heart and spirit at work.
An unfinished artwork is vulnerable, just like an unfinished life.
And honestly, I find that inspiring.
This is a good moment to appreciate my amazing sister, Sarah, who received in 2016 an abrupt and life-altering diagnosis of acute AML. Her journey, literally to the threshold of death and back, coping now with the daily demands of graft-versus-host-disease, and still finding kindness to give back to others, is epic. She wrote a guest essay for us on how much hand-written cards have meant to her.
Teaser alert - she and I are working on some news to share with you soon, that will give you an uplifting way to give back, too!
I'd be remiss if I didn't express profound gratitude to Viktor Frankl for his book Man's Search for Meaning. I read it when I was in my early 20s and it changed my mindset to live a far more authentic, empowered, and appreciative life.
Let me add this - I am at peace about my passing specifically because I keep actively reaching for my dreams. Death is okay with me because I am fully living my life. Put another way, if I still had things I wish I had been brave enough to try but didn't, I would feel more disappointment at the prospect of dying. Does that make sense?
I retired early from teaching to start my art business and my coaching business. Every single day I've been learning new concepts and skills and I feel fully alive. What I've noticed is that, amid the whirl of new knowledge I'm trying to acquire, being an entrepreneur is one of the most spiritual journeys I've ever been on.
One hugely proud entrepreneurial legacy moment - receiving my first US Copyright certificate in the mail for 10 drawings which I have registered. The rights to my drawings can be passed on to my daughter to do with as she pleases - that is a wonderful feeling!
The one thing that hurts my heart, if I die young-ish, is what it will be like for my husband. We've found an extraordinary love together. We weathered the pandemic by finding even more joy in our everyday existence together. When I think of him moving through the house without me, noticing things that bring me to mind, knowing that ache in his heart is there because I am not there, that does hurt.
My older sister went through this several years ago when her husband died young. There is nothing more abrupt and disorienting than moving through the house you built and furnished together, alone. I'm so proud of her for taking the time that grief demanded, for writing a memoir about her loss, and for all the contributions she is making today in her teaching and volunteer work.
Something that helps me is my favorite buddy movies, especially those where one beloved character dies unexpectedly. It's up to the rest of the crew to make sense of it. There is pain, sadness, anger, loneliness, and fear in that work.
Coping with grief and loss is one of our heaviest burdens to bear as humans. The secret to healing is this - it is not to be borne alone.
In the best of these films, as in real life, what guides us through loss to a new place of grace is -- love.
We need each other to get through the sorrows of life.
I know my husband has some of the finest friends this world has ever seen. It actually brings tears to my eyes to think of how much love he will be surrounded by if I am no longer here.
So, my wish is for you to feel empowered to create your meaning and purpose.
May you head into your day with all of your unfinished works in progress and embrace each moment, imperfectly and with genuine curiosity.
May you allow your heart to be just a little bit more open today.
May love be your legacy.