Saturday, April 16, 2005

Waste not; want not

People on the island are interested in my story. Upon hearing that I came here directly from Chicago, they look at me in bewilderment and ask, "How did you find this place?" I tell a good story in which I look like a romantic heroine, selling my house, giving away most of my stuff and leaving for the island with only what fit in my Saturn because I was at a transitional point in my life and fell in love with the sense of community and the beauty of the island. They like that.

Thursday, at lunch after class, both the professor and this very neat, sarcastic older lady named Linda asked simultaneously from two different ends of the table, "What are you doing here?" In the ensuing conversation, though, the conversation turned from its usual course. I gave the usual intro and they were suitably impressed, but as we talked about other things, I began to telling them that I would probably move back in the Fall. I don't normally tell this to island folk because I don't want them to withhold themselves because I'm temporary and not worth the investment of friend energy. But, in two different conversations, I found myself saying that to stay here, even as perfect as it is, would be wasteful.

I have a great family. We like to simply spend time in the same place at the same time. I don't know if I can speak for all of us, but I feel like I can only ever be totally myself with my family. If others are around, I have to think about loving them or what they think of me or being polite or what they're going to do next. People are unpredictable. Their love is most likely conditional. Whether they like me or not is up for grabs. My status in their lives can change. This sense of uncertainty is never at the forefront of my mind, but I'm always aware of their presence and my own is affected because of it. With my family, it's different. I know exactly where I stand with them. I can be myself because they have to love me. It's a system that works well for us. We can completely enjoy each other because we are completely comfortable with ourselves together.

I realized that I did not want to look back at my life when I was 50 and regret that I hadn't spent more time with my family. That would be a waste. So many people have uncomfortable families full of underlying agendas and old hurts. Hearing their stories makes me realize that I should not take mine for granted. Finding community on Orcas is great and eye-opening but the community that is my family is worth so much more and my family is in Chicago. I can't waste that.

At lunch, I was also asked about teaching. I got the usual shock that I had taught for 5 years before coming here. I swear, I must look like I'm 22 to most people based on the disbelief I encounter when the events of my adult life come out in conversation. These people from class don't even know about my marriage yet. Jeez. In addition to asking about teaching, they asked specifically about teaching urban kids. I found myself talking about my calling to teach urban kids. I was asked an odd question. I was asked, "Are you good at that?" I admitted that I was good at teaching urban kids and that I loved it. They reminded me that not many people are actually good at teaching, especially urban kids. I can't waste that either. To have a calling and a calling that one is good at is - like my family - not something to be taken for granted. Of course, there are no urban kids on Orcas Island. That, too, is calling me back to Chicago.

When I came out here to give myself some space to discover what I wanted to do with my life, I did not predict that I would discover the same paths that I had found when I was a sophomore in college. "The hardest to learn was the least complicated," as the Indigo Girls sing.

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