Okay, I’m still working on the happy endings. Here are two short versions based on suggestions from two friends.
We are retired, moving back to Alabama to family and friends…. We are grateful. We are grateful for the job and the salary and the benefits and the pension. We are grateful to have meaningful work and to feel more or less financially secure. We are grateful that we are not trying to find new employment at this stage of our lives. We never thought we’d have to move so far away, but you know, we are even grateful for that. We are grateful to have lived with four distinct seasons and the beauty of snow – and it is beautiful. Now we are most grateful to retire and move back to Alabama. We have missed our family and our friends and our church. We have missed the culture of the deep South. We haven’t really been gone this whole time. We have come back to visit. We have kept in touch with phone calls and posts on Facebook, but it’s not the same as living here in Alabama. It’s not the same.
Now that we have returned we find that Alabama is also not the same. Everything changes, it’s just more noticeable when you aren’t living it day by day. We have come back to find that things are not exactly the same as we remember them. There have been both births and deaths. Friends have moved away and new people have arrived to take their places. Businesses have come and gone. We remember the constant state of construction, but it is still a shock to see new buildings and whole new blocks. It’s not the same, and yet it is. The things we love have not changed. Even we have been changed by living so far away. The truth is that now we miss some things from our former home, but we also have found new things to love and appreciate at home – things we missed while we were gone and didn’t even realize it until we had them again. It’s good to be home. It is not the same, but it is good.
That one was pretty easy. The happy ending was already implied. The next one was more difficult because it is far more open-ended.
When I turned 26, I hit a growth spurt. Everyone has growth spurts. We have them from the day we are born. As children and the adults around us make inane comments about how we are growing like weeds. Sometimes we grow so fast that you can see an actual difference from one week to the next. Sometimes it’s not quite that fast. Our parents measure our growth by how remarkable quickly our clothes, and especially our shoes, become too small. Boys often have another, usually final, major growth spurt in adolescence. It can happen to girls too, but it is far more common with boys. Boys can leave school the end of the junior year of high school and return after the summer a foot taller and looking like young men instead of young boys. Growth spurts are not just about gaining height.
When I turned 26, I hit a growth spurt. It wasn’t the kind of growth spurt that short boys (and often short girls) pray for when they are 14. It was another kind of growth all together.
My childhood was boring. Well, it seemed boring to me. I guess it was really pretty average. That’s not to say there were no instances of high drama. I had my share, but all in all there wasn’t too much to write about. I made it through high school, although no one including myself ever had any doubt about that. I went to college, changed my major a few times, and finally graduated with a liberal arts degree. Then, being completely unprepared by college for a career, I took a job to pay the bills and wished I was back in school again.
Actually it would be more accurate to say that I took a series of jobs. I knew that some of them were temporary from the git go, but occasionally I would land somewhere that I thought had the potential to turn into something I would want to stick with. That usually proved to false within six or eight months. I occasionally splurged on a six pack of imported beer but otherwise I was living more or less hand-to-mouth. Still, I was living out on my own, paying my bills on time, and all the while I kept waiting for my real life to begin.
The months since college graduation began to pile up, one bleeding into the next. I had been in school my whole life and it was hard to get used to calendar years that did not revolve around the anticipation of the start of school or of school letting out for vacation.
What happened to vacation? I never realized how much time I had off while I was in school. I was too caught up in the grind of studying and writing papers and taking tests and figuring out what to take the next semester. The real world was different. Sometimes it felt like the only time I had off was if I quite a job and put off looking for another one. How in the world does anyone survive on two weeks off a year? It’s barbaric, and because I rarely had a normal kind of 9-5 job, it seemed like I always had to work at least one day in the weekend. I never realized how much just two days off in a row could mean. I was jealous of those who consistently seemed to take two days off in a row. I was angry at how they didn’t appreciate the gift two consecutive days is.
I started thinking about going back to school, but I realized I just couldn’t afford to do that without a complete free ride and that was highly unlikely. I barely made it out the last time, not because I wasn’t capable of doing the work, mind you. I just had better things to do than go to class, but I knew that if I worked at it I would get excellent grades.
This isn’t the way life is supposed to turn out. Surely something would happen soon that would set me on my true course, and then once I was on that course, then I would be happy. That actually picked up my spirits for a while. For some weeks I lived in anticipation of this event, great or small, that would change my destiny – No, not change my destiny, but reveal my destiny.
One day I woke up. I didn’t just roll out of bed, take a shower, and drink some coffee. I mean I truly woke up. My eyes were finally wide open. I was not sitting around the waiting room of my life. This was my life. I was shocked. I was horrified. I was depressed.
I set my coffee cup down, worked up my worst raspy voice, and called in sick. Then I made another pot of coffee and began to think. Was I simply being too impatient? Had I not given it enough time for my real calling in life to be revealed? Or was it never going to be revealed? Was I going to live out my days jumping from one dead-end job that I couldn’t care less about to another?
No, this is not the life I want. So what do I want? That’s when the growth spurt began. I didn’t figure it all out that day. I didn’t figure it all out in the next year. Okay, I still haven’t figured it all out, and I no longer expect that I ever will.
Some growth isn’t about height or weight or shoe size. Some growth is about learning who we are and how the choices we make can shape our lives. Some growth is about learning to make better choices and to accept responsibility for ourselves.