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?
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