While I was teaching, I rarely entertained the thought of retirement. I did, however, observe those latter years of life as my parents experienced them.
When they finally retired from endless workdays on the farm and later at area nursing homes or the paper mill, it was great to watch them follow the daily schedule that suited best. My father still rose with the sun for coffee and a crossword, while Mother cherished her night owl ways as an inveterate book worm. And they joyfully doted on their grandchildren.
I myself finally closed my gradebook in 2010. It took me a while to engage in the hobbies I had delayed for so long, but I eventually emulated my parents’ satisfaction with the freedom of retirement.
A few years ago, however, I noticed an odd sense of foreboding lurking in the back of my mind, never really expecting to feel so unsettled so late in life. Curiously, I do not remember that my parents necessarily experienced such feelings. It is a sense I have been unable to shake, which seems to be gathering strength. Of course, there have always been enough problems floating around to cause anxiety, but I have usually held a reasonable perspective. Such perspective is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Consider with me, for example, the unabated niggling at my brain during the past couple of weeks.
It is almost too obvious to assume the interminable pandemic as the underlying source of my uneasiness. Actually, I am at peace with precautions I have taken to protect myself, my family, my friends. Rather, it is that we citizens have been unable, even unwilling to close ranks in the face of a national emergency to protect and support one another – in spite of our various views. It is the spiritual virus that weighs heavy on my heart.
Fortunately, during some random New Year’s Eve program Amanda Gorman appeared on screen to share her newest poem “New Day’s Lyric.” My spirits lifted as the National Youth Poet Laureate explained she wanted to “celebrate the new year and honor the hurt and the humanity of the last one.” Perhaps these few lines from Ms. Gorman’s latest piece will encourage everyone to enjoy her entire poem and the hope it offers all our hearts:
May this be the day
We come together…
Tethered by this year of learning,
We are learning
That though we weren’t ready for this,
We have been readied by it…
Let us not return to what was normal,
But reach toward what is next…
Come over, join this day just begun.
For wherever we come together,
We will forever overcome.
Just six days later, however, I felt overwhelmed by unwelcome memories of the turmoil thrust upon us on January 6, 2021. I simply could not watch replays of a mob of Americans overrunning the building where our elected legislators meet to carry out their sworn duties.
I was appalled last year when a sizeable segment of those elected officials, whose personal safety was protected by police and security forces, returned to the floor of Congress determined to cancel the results of the 2020 election. I am incensed this year that those same legislators whose lives were protected last year should refuse to join fellow members this year in recognition and commemoration – simply because they had been thwarted in their goal of preventing the peaceful transfer of our government’s power.
I must say, however, a recent family project was thoroughly positive for mind, spirit, and body. My cousins and siblings, the grandchildren of C.R. and Emma Wilkins Scott, determined to honor our uncles/fathers who represented the family by serving the country militarily. Collectively we have purchased a brick for each of these six brothers to be included on the new Honor Wall being constructed by the American Legion Post 120 in Urbana. It was lovely to confirm the many details involved, and we trust all members of our sprawling family – whether in person or memory – will be forever proud of the efforts of these men.
And still I feel great concern as another shadow crosses my mind: surely our uncles/dads did not lay their lives on the line for naught. I am haunted by insightful comments from presidential historian Jon Meacham, whose perspective I respect: Democracies are about seeing each other not as rivals, but as neighbors…we do not see each other as neighbors in America at this time…are we in fact mature enough as a people to govern ourselves…I think we are…but we’re doing everything we can to prove the opposite.
Amidst this gloom and doom, with occasional flashes of positivity, I received the annual Christmas letter from a former student’s husband. Amy Kube Smith was the first of my students to spend an entire school year in Germany. Her husband Tom’s words are worth pondering: As the world becomes ever more complex and the “good ole days” fade into oblivion, remember, several thousand years ago some old Etruscans complained about the very same things we do today: bad government, bad press, disrespectful youth, the horrid rich or poor. Perhaps, these are the “good ole days” and we’re just letting them pass by. Maybe, these are the best of times. Change your perspective, adjust your attitude and enjoy the ride of your life because we get what we get, and this is it.
Thanks, Tom … I think!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.