Friday, May 20, 2011

Tick, tock.....

"Only 53 more days!"

"It's Wednesday! Only two more days until the weekend."

"Six months until my vacation!"

"10 minutes until quitting time...."

What about this minute, this hour, this day? While we're counting down the days--sometimes even the seconds--today is slipping away, unattended and unappreciated. And sadly, it can never be replaced.....ever. Trite, obvious, but seemingly an ignored concept by so many people. Maybe until we gain some years and realize what we're losing.

I used to be one of them. In one of my professional roles over the years, I taught middle school social studies. To say the kids were uninterested would be a gross understatement, but that fact wasn't unique to my class. Students today, especially if they are 13, have more pressing matters to concern themselves with, like hormonal surges that make them literally crazy for a few years. Or parental pressure to WIN at all costs, at everything they attempt, leaving no room for failure while learning something new. These children begin to see learning as dangerous to their well-being at home and to be avoided at all costs. Or on the flip side, they have parents who are MIA, either in body or spirit or both.

"Why don't I have my homework? Well, my mom picked me up for the weekend, then on Sunday night got into a fist fight with my dad when he came late to get me. My homework is still at her house, left behind when I had to sneak out the window in a hurry to get away. My clothes for PE are still there in her washing machine, too."  Paul Revere and his midnight ride aren't of much interest to this child stuck in the middle of his parents' war.

I enjoyed teaching in spite of all this for about 11 years. Then the pressures began to wear me down, day by day, hour by hour, minute by crawling minute. As I rounded the curved driveway leading to the school every morning, the pressure turned to dread and then to near panic, a fist curled in my stomach just waiting to punch its way out. I figured out how many years I would have to endure before I could retire with whatever benefits would be left by that time. My stomach roiled. My heart pounded as I unlocked my classroom door each morning.

I watched other people around me--not all, but many--look at their watches dozens of times each day, like they had it all calculated until they could pack it in and leave for the last time. I commiserated with them in the faculty lounge: Only 10 days until spring break. Only 3 months until summer. Only 2 days until Friday. 3 hours until I can go home. There were others who made it to 3 weeks until full retirement and then dropped dead, the "prize" there in sight. Others finally got to pack up the new RV and begin all the traveling they had worked 30 years for but were stilled by a stroke on the way down the driveway. All those years of counting the hours and it was all for nothing anyway.

One day I had to face myself in the mirror and admit what I was doing to my life: I was wishing it away. Literally. I was missing my own life while I was merely enduring a job I no longer wanted. For what? A paycheck? Benefits? Couldn't I get those somewhere else, somewhere I enjoyed going every day, or at least had a sense of peace about? How much is a life worth, anyway? Just ask the ones cut down after mucking through all those wasted years.

Today I am a self-employed educator who got up and watched the fog slip across my garden in the morning stillness. I still teach and I write, thus fulfilling a life-long passion to express myself. I experience every moment as it arrives, and I watch it go on its unique way, never to be experienced again. I don't wrestle with my moments, one by one, until I can get somewhere else. Yes, my life has uncertainty. But it's of my making and within my control.

Teaching is no different than working in a factory or selling shoes. When you start marking time to get away from it, you need to do just that. And you don't have to wait until you're 50 or 60, like I did.

The clock is marking every precious second of your life.

Tick tock, tick tock.


  1. Debbie,

    What a great post! My mom and I were talking about this a few days ago. I have a sister who keeps making plans to come visit mom, then she calls and cancels because of work. She works 6 days a week, usually 12 hour days. She hates it, she has health problems,she's always tired and irritable. She's in debt up to her eyeballs. She made the same promises to my sister who recently passed away with cancer. She kept saying, tomorrow, next week, later, there's plenty of time. The time ran out and she lives with that guilt. I already knew it, but the past 18 months, the deaths of 3 family members and 2 very good friends in one year have sealed it. Life is short, don't wait to live it because it could be snatched away in the blink of an eye.

  2. Thank you, Gerri, for sharing your own experiences with this. It is such a simple concept: WE ONLY HAVE THIS MOMENT....nothing more. Nothing. What is that worth to you? Simple, yet totally out of reach for many people. I send peace to your sister.....