Sunday, June 22, 2014

Carpe Diem Reminders

It has been a melancholy time at work; we're consolidating into a single building, which means clearing out the other building.  I'm sad about all the furniture that can't be saved.  I'm sad about the views from the 4th floor windows that I won't have anymore.  On Thursday, I sang in the stairwell one last time--how I will miss those acoustics and the way the sound vibrated in my body.

And then on Friday, I got unbearably sad news:  Susan Pawela, my first department chair at the school where I work, the one who hired me, has died unexpectedly.  She was only 60 or 61.

She had moved to Virginia in 2007; the fierce 2005 hurricane season hit her particularly hard, and she wanted to move to a place with less extreme weather and values that were more in line with hers.  She applied for a full-time job as a university faculty member in the first year experience program--and she got it! So off they went.

I had stayed in touch a bit, but it was the kind of relationship where we'd talk every 6-18 months.  I'm glad that my last conversation with her was a good one.  It was shortly after the reorganization of our school, where I'd lost my job, applied for the new variation of my old job, and gotten it.  I was feeling haunted by the idea that I should find something more secure, but I found it hard to pull myself together enough to send materials out.  She said, "Well, I'm not surprised.  You've suffered a great trauma.  Maybe you just need to rest for a bit and discern what's next."

She often had those kinds of words of wisdom.

I will always be grateful to her for hiring me when she could have decided to just go with an adjunct.  I'll always be grateful that she allowed me to teach a variety of creative writing classes, a leap of faith on her part, since I had to create the class first.

We were also friends outside of school.  We were both interested in quilting, and we discovered others too.  We had a group that met to work on our quilts.  For years, we met once a month without fail.  It's amazing to me now that we were able to do that.  It's likely the reason that I was able to complete so many full-size quilts.

Her death has left me reeling a bit.  With people my age getting stage IV cancers and people not much older than me dying, it's been a year of tough reminders that we are not on this planet for very long.

I expected a bit of a mid-life crisis in my 30's, but then I realized that with people living longer, I wasn't really at mid-life at age 35.  Why, what with my healthy habits, I should live to be at least 125!  No need for a midlife crisis until age 60 or so.

Now I'm realizing that all my healthy habits may not mean I get to live past age 100.  The past half year with its losses has triggered not a mid-life crisis, but a piercing question:  what if I don't have the time I thought I would?  What are the most important projects to get finished while I still can?  How can I show the ones that I love how much I love them?  How can I spend more time with them and with the activities that bring me joy?  How can I minimize the things that drain the color out of life?


rbarenblat said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. May her memory be a blessing.

Kathleen said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your friend and former colleague. Her words of wisdom--rest, listen for the next thing--resonate with me, too. As does your singing in the stairwell, which you do in so many beautiful ways.


Please accept my condolences, K. Those last questions in your post are important ones that I suggest must be answered sooner not later. Sorry for your loss. <3 Albert


Please accept my condolences, K. Those last questions in your post are important ones that I suggest must be answered sooner not later. Sorry for your loss. <3 Albert