This morning I was walking up a trail above the valley, pondering the vagaries of retirement, and a forgotten moment came up for me, one that left me deeply missing the work that I did for many years. Like all schools, we ended the year with graduation, at HVS a tender and heartfelt event, where each graduate was given a moment at the microphone to express thanks to parents and friends or to reflect on their experience at the school. (Many fellow educators were incredulous that I would dare hand a mic to students on the way out, but in 25 years of doing it, I never once regretted it). The day itself was a day of closure, of saying goodbye to students I had grown to love, or even to teachers who were moving on. It was an emotional day, one where I would rise and put on a coat and tie…one of just a few such occasions in the year…look over the notes for my speech, and take the walk along the path from my house to the school. I can admit this now. In all of those years it was rare that I did not get sick on my way across the field. I was always frightened that I might be seen and I truly do not understand why it happened, as I was quite used to public speaking, but, there it is…perhaps stage fright, perhaps a tension wishing all to go well…who knows. I would arrive to school to collect my boutonnière and greet the commencement speaker and early arriving parents. I would visit the library to give each graduate a hug and a few words of encouragement. Then there was the music and the speaking and the laughter and the tears. Afterwards we posed for photos and some food was served, though I rarely ate it.
Yet the moment that came to me this morning was the moment when the crowds had thinned and families drifted off to their own celebrations. I would go back to the podium to gather whatever book or notes that I left there, drop them in my office, and walk down the driveway toward home. On my way across the field, I would loosen my tie and perhaps throw my coat over my shoulder and I would be nearly overcome with a feeling of completion…another year put to bed…students that I cherished who I may or may not see again…all of the challenges of the year, the ups and downs, highs and lows, all rushing at me at once. But what I felt was some mixture of accomplishment, survival, exhaustion, and not a little mixture of both sadness and elation. I would go home, hang my suit, slip on shorts and a t-shirt, and put my feet up on the rail of the deck. Oh, there would be work to do: closing faculty meetings, correspondence, end-of-year negotiations of one sort or another, but for that moment I would feel the weight of the year slide off my shoulders. Do I miss the work? Of course, just as I miss the people and those fields, but this morning I missed the feeling of completion that came to me those mornings as I walked across the field. Perhaps in retirement I am supposed to feel that about my career. When I walk tomorrow morning, I will give that some thought.