A typical interview question employers ask aspiring employees: “where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?”
If asked that question ten years ago, I would not have responded with any accuracy. I could not have imagined retiring from teaching and being a published author at sixty-three.
Retirement was an idea that hit me between the eyes. It was late August and I was sitting in morning services at synagogue after reciting the second Mourner’s Kaddish for my dad. Once I begin teaching this fall, I thought, I won’t be able to attend daily services at 7:00 am. By that time I am already at work. Resentment flooded my body as I realized the opportunity to pray with my community would disappear on school days. That thought led to the question that I discussed internally each morning, “what would Dad want me to do?” The first answer was easy-- he would want his children to make sure their mother was happy and well cared for. I had just returned from a successful trip to San Diego with Mom to scout out winter lodgings and I felt relieved she would be in a friendly and lovely environment. Still, I wanted to be sure I could see Mom often. When Dad died, I was in the midst of grandma euphoria with a grandson living across the Mississippi in St. Paul and another on the way. Much as I loved being a history teacher, I could feel it was time to leave and build a new life centered on my family without the constrictions of a school calendar. Yes, dad would also want me to be with my grandchildren.
All fall I weighed the idea of retirement. When I asked the school principal if I could take time off for a family Bar Mitzvah in Israel in March, he demurred. That was a point in favor of retirement. A new granddaughter was scheduled to arrive in October—another argument for retiring. But, I liked my students and every day in class was a joy. Point against retirement. It was a close match.
When I talked to friends contemplating retirement, the same question arose again and again—how to meaningfully fill the time. I thought I had the answer—being a grandparent, learning something new, and volunteering. But, I knew I thrived with structure and I was wary about wading into unscheduled waters.
While debating the letter of intent to the school district, my oldest friend called me from her hospital bed in Philadelphia. She had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. She had survived surgery and was facing radiation therapy. Time stopped for me as she spoke. The retirement debate was over for me. I needed to see my friend as often as I could. I felt guilty about leaving my students midyear, but they were resilient and motivated and I knew with or without me, they would succeed.
I submitted my letter of intention and walked away from my classroom in February.
To be continued…