Many of us have spent some time in the past few weeks tending to relationship gardens that have become rather weedy and overgrown, if not forgotten. We are suddenly contemplating the people who were special to us in the past, people who we may have completely lost touch with. For me, there are a few crucial years in my life where almost all of the threads have been dropped: My undergrad years. These years were huge for me in terms of making decisions that would impact the path I took into the future, moving away from science and into history, as well as planting the seeds for a lifelong interest in the humanities in general that have carried forward to the current day. I find myself returning to these years frequently in the past few days, thinking about those people who were so important in these years–all of whom I have almost completely lost touch with after I moved to Canada and got married in 1991. They attended my wedding (and in the case of my residence hall roommates Shana and Molly, were part of it) and then, in those pre-social media days, we went our separate ways.
Shana is a Facebook friend, although we really haven’t interacted much. I know she works at Princeton now, and is a wildlife researcher–just as she had planned–and has a young son. None of the others are apparently on Facebook. I know Molly went on to art school; it looks like she may be a teacher in the Columbus area now. I met up with John Reeves at a cousin’s wedding while I was living in Columbus; he had married a friend of a friend and was doing well. And John Riegel, who was a friend who became more than that and gradually fell back to friendship in my final summer in Columbus–he also did exactly what he had always planned to do, teaching music at the high school level. He teaches at one of the Hilliard high schools now, and won a music educator award a couple of years ago. He, too, is married.
I’ve been thinking about him a lot the past couple of days, and why I loved him. In his passion for what he did and the joy of music that he shared with everyone, I found a kindred spirit. It wasn’t just that he was the musician I could never be, it was more that what he wanted to do with his life was to teach, to inspire creativity, and it pervaded his personality. That’s what I wanted, too. I wanted that throughout my graduate school career, and I found ways to do it outside academia during that time and beyond–but I haven’t been able to pursue it as a vocation. The fact that at least three of my closest university friends have apparently been able to find a way to teach–and in at least John’s case, to be recognized as one of the best at what he does–has filled me with a few regrets, wishes that things might have turned out differently for me. But I know why I made the decisions I did, and that they have, in general, allowed me to pursue creative activities and opportunities I might not have been able to do otherwise. These decisions have also allowed me to build a nearly 20-year career that has supported me and my husband, and kept us out of financial uncertainty.
That’s not to say I have ever, in those thirty years since I graduated from Ohio State, ever really stopped teaching. I of course taught in graduate school. I’ve taught in the SCA, I’ve taught in Toastmasters, and I’ve taught in my PMI chapter. And each time I do it, I realize the benefits that feed my soul–seeing people take the knowledge and carry it forward. If there is any legacy I fervently desire to leave, it’s the ability to leave the world a better place than I have found it, to inspire curiosity and the ability to look at and understand the world in an informed, critical manner.
I need to do this more. My husband and I are starting to look into the idea of YouTube videos to share the vast contents of our respective historical rabbit holes. But once the current crisis passes, I need to find a way to teach more regularly–which in the current educational environment is a real challenge. University teaching is likely a no-go, although I certainly have the resume for it. Public high school teaching would require further schooling, and there would be no guarantee of finding a position (particularly as someone with a humanities focus, although I still do have that science background as well). So the task will be to look at what other opportunities exist. There are fields such as coaching (not the sports kind) and tutoring, and various e-learning platforms–some of which friends are using to teach. There is also a huge need in society to learn critical thinking skills–which is what I spent 12 years of post-secondary schooling learning how to do.
And I am following those dropped relationship threads as far as I can. It has been nearly thirty years, but I’d love to know the people my friends became, how the seeds I saw in them back then grew and flourished or evolved into something different. In my own case, the flowers I planted bloomed, but then the season changed and they were no more., But their remains fertilized the soil so new seeds could thrive. That soil–the foundation–remains, enriched by the life I have lived. I just need to understand how to use it once again to continue to transform into the person I am ever becoming.