Knowing there’s a loop and I won’t be in it

I’ve left home for a couple of days.  I haven’t run away, just to be clear.  I’ve returned to my home town of London, Ontario for a visit with my friend Esther who has been a part of my heart-family for as long as I can remember.  We met as teenagers and over the years we’ve held hands through family crises and personal crises, through life-cycle events and work transitions, and we’ve shared more bottles of wine than I’d like to count.  Usually we get together in Toronto but since she now has her age-challenged mother living with her it’s hard for her to get away so here I am back “home” and the continuity of life is staring me in the face for sure.

I started my life here. Went to school. Began teaching.  My third child was born here – the first was born in California and the second in Israel.  I had my first wedding here.  It’s hard not to think back over the ways in which life has unfolded – rarely according to anything like a plan – and start thinking about how it’s about to unfold some more.  Have you ever had dinner in a swanky restaurant where the napkins were folded as if they were meant to enter some international napkin-folding Olympics?  Ever picked that napkin up, just to see how the folding worked? Ever watched it suddenly become limp and turn into just another square of linen as you sat helplessly by?  If you were lucky enough to have already memorized the folding pattern before “the fall”, you will now attempt to re-fold the napkin, but I’m guessing it won’t work and before long you’ll just lay it in your lap, smooth it over, and return to whatever you were doing before you became obsessed with your napkin.  As I sit here today, waiting for my friend to finish her work-day (she’ll likely retire next year) and join me, I can’t help but wonder if any of the thoughts I’ve had about retirement, any of the “I will”s or “I won’t”s will prove to be more steadfast than the folds in that errant napkin.  Can’t help but wonder.

It’s been a while since I’ve had an “oh my God, what am I doing?!*#^” moment.  I’m having one now though.  What if my calculations were really wrong, and I won’t have enough money to live on?  What if all of my working friends forget about me?  What if pretty soon nobody wants me to give a plenary address, or talk to their class, or teach a course, or write some curriculum – because — pretty soon I’ll be out of the loop, and that worries me a lot.  I realize that the public in general thinks of “cutting edge” as connected to technology or science or environmentalism.  There’s a cutting edge in education too; being up-to-date on the latest research, knowing what the international trends are, being aware of new approaches, new pedagogies, new paradigms.  Having taught in numerous schools and universities, and having spent the last dozen or so years ensconced in an educational leadership/policy milieu, part of my job has been to maintain that edge, to stay on the sharp side of all things educational.  I get daily news briefings in my inbox for goodness sake; how much easier than that can it be to stay in the loop?  But soon, in another two and a half months, that will all end and I’ll just be another girl from London who used to be a teacher. 

Used to be.  Being forgotten.  Being out-of-touch.  Wandering somewhere in the valley with only an occasional glimpse of a summit.    Moving from being an “is” to a “was”.  I’m pretty sure that this isn’t an issue unique to teachers and I can only hope that lots of you will give me advice on how to stay in the loop, well-informed, and current beyond knowing what’s on in afternoon television.

Do you have any strategies for staying up to date that you could share?  They may seem obvious to you, but to a soon-to-be neophyte retiree this is all a mystery.

Any advice on how that bridge (the one that takes us from paid employment to retirement) won’t lead to nowhere?

I’m finishing up this posting four days after I started writing it.  I’m back home now, and I just spent the afternoon going through files with notes from courses I’ve taught in the past.  Courses that I could no longer teach because — and this is the scary part –  I’m out of those loops already.  Maybe I need to pick one or two things to stay current with?  Does best summer soup recipes count? 


5 responses to “Knowing there’s a loop and I won’t be in it

  1. Sylvia, so many times I’ve said “don’t worry” (remember I’m older), it will all work out. I can’t imagine how you will be “out of the loop” with all the expert planning and consideration of possibilities that you have already done.
    My advice, keep in touch with someone in the office – just a friendly call – and stay current in the courses you plan to continue teaching.
    Having said that, I am also afraid of being forgotten (work is social too) but intellectually I know that you and I are not defined by our jobs or job titles – there is much more to us than that!

  2. Yes, you’ll be out of the loop. That’s the point. There’ll be new loops and new connections. This is really a passage that is not so different from working through decisions at other stages of our lives. Check out the first writer/director interview at (The film we failed to see last night because the distributor had inadvertently picked it up a day early.) His goal-setting is very much like ours; but we don’t have the same urgency about proving ourselves. Our urgency often comes from being sure we do things before we become too decrepit.
    A colleague told me that when you retire your shelf-life as a consultant is exactly four years. Mine has stretched out to ten. But whenever you come to a fork in the road, what you choose cancels out some other possibility.
    You do lose contact with some colleagues — just the way I saw a few friends less after I adopted a child. People who couldn’t cope with crumbs or with my not being able to make spur of the moment plans. But your real friends are always there and you meet lots of new interesting, often younger people.
    The big difference in making these choices is that a pension is a financial cushion that gives you the ability to say “No thanks!” when an option isn’t just right.

  3. Sylvia Bereskin

    The notion of having a personal / professional “shelf life” is fascinating; I need to give that one more thought. The clip was interesting (thanks Jane) and I especially was caught by his talking about “this is the time to do it if you’re ever going to do it”. I think there are so many possibilities ahead and I guess that’s partly what’s frightening – as well as very exhilirating. I remember that, after living on kibbutz for a while and not doing any grocery shopping, that when I returned to Canada and went to the supermarket and was faced with an entire aisle of cereals I was frozen in my tracks; too much choice is a bit overwhelming too. Your comments and suggestions are really appreciated; when women support other women there’s no end to what we can accomplish I think.

  4. Dear Sylvia,

    Im not yet a retiree but my mom and mom-in-law will soon be and they are teachers like you too. I havent really heard their “retirement worries” yet but talking to them, i just got some hints.

    If teaching is really a passion and gives you life, then perhaps you can still teach as a volunteer, even after you retire.

    The internet gives you all the latest information you needed about anything and anywhere around the world. So maybe if you missed the “updates”, just click on that mouse and you’re good to go.

    I wish you happiness and great health as you’ll soon face a new chapter in your life. Would love to read more from you. Be blessed!

  5. Sylvia Bereskin

    Hi Marn, and welcome to the conversation. Your advice – and your encouragement – are both appreciated. Hoping you’ll keep passing on good ideas.

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