Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Serendipitous Conundrum

I was twenty-two and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had graduated months earlier with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. The initial plan was to continue with grad school, but my husband had been offered a position with a big name engineering firm in New Jersey. This would take us far from our beloved Midwestern roots and from the Illinois college town we had come to call home. On moving, I had initially gone into retail management thinking it an easy job with possible potential. After all, I had paid many college bills with earnings from hours spent pushing Jockey briefs and Gold Toe Fluffies. How could merchandising teddies, bikinis, and push-up bras be much different? After mere months of this, however, I knew the retail life was not for me.

But what was?

I briefly considered returning to school. I never had a doubt that I would, at some point, continue my studies. My desire to earn my doctorate in psychology was strong. However, from our new home, my major college options were Princeton or Rutgers. Both were a bit out of budget. Besides, I wasn’t sure I was ready to make that kind of educational commitment even though I was certain it was what I wanted to do.

What then?

I decided to put my name on the list for substitutes at two of the local school systems. I had done this during college with a good degree of success. I believed substituting would give me some extra cash while affording me the breathing space to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that it would not be an everyday thing, but was okay with that as I desperately felt the desire to get a professional plan together. If Princeton was to be our new home, I knew I would not be returning to grad school in the near future. I also knew that I needed a career and not just a job. With just a Bachelor’s in psychology, however, my options were limited.

“Hey, Tam. It’s Bun.” It is six o’clock in the morning. The kindly older woman on the other end of the phone is the person in charge of calling substitutes for the school system that will turn out to be my favorite. She wants to know if I can come in to take over for a seventh grade geography teacher. I say sure. Bunny will become a familiar voice. The need for subs in this area is strong. I am called every day. I am scheduled sometimes for extended assignments, weeks out ahead. What I felt would be a once in awhile position has become a full-time job. The money is good. The work is great. But I have no time to think about my life. I have no time to plan or strategize. I am so busy teaching that I have no time to think.

Sometimes, in fact, I tell Bun that I have plans and that I will not be able to cover. These are the days I play hooky. I spend them curled up in my large bay window penning words and soaking in the sunshine. I write books that will never be published and which, after just a couple of rejections, I will toss in the trash.

Teaching and writing. I enjoy every minute. The kids love me. The teachers request me. I end the days with a smile. On the days I skip school, I tell myself that I am taking time to tend to my soul, taking time to create and relax and breathe. I tell myself that writing is something I NEED to do, something I HAVE to do. As with teaching, however, I see it as a frivolous distraction from my real mission.

What, for the love of GOD, am I to do with my life?

I see now, some thirty years later, that what I thought of as distraction was a simple case of serendipity. The solution to my problem, without great amount of effort on my part, was set before me. Sometimes the answer is not to strategize or to plan. Sometimes, the answer is to surrender.

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