Have you ever gotten a taste of something so wonderful, so outside your normal experience…only to be kept from enjoying it again? The memory lingers, the desire to taste again grows, but as that good thing is denied year after year, it becomes obvious that two dangerous attitudes can take root: agitation and resignation. I am fighting both; here’s why……
After teaching high school English to largely indifferent and video-crazed teens for fifteen years, and as the numbness of a totally predictable routine and an uninspired life became intolerable, my oft-taught words of H.D. Thoreau began to haunt me: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. I knew I had to march, as Thoreau suggests, to the beat of a different drummer, so I decided to attend an International Schools’ Teacher Recruitment Fair. I was told my chances of landing a teaching position overseas were poor given my non-teaching spouse, my 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son. International schools want the best value for their recruiting money; a school paying the airfare and housing for four while getting only one teacher was unlikely and cast a serious cloud over my chances. As providence would have it (I cannot attribute it to anything else), a school wanted my services!
What a unique spring and summer it was…selling all my possessions instead of accumulating them. Thoreau was again sounding in my head: Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. So simplify I did! The sale of each possession–the house, the cars, the furniture, the excess upon excess–was a weight lifted, a load lightened. As my sense of excitement and anticipation grew, a corresponding sensation of dread and uneasiness grew within my wife. We were heading to Medellin, Colombia!
Family and friends replied to the news predictably: “What? Are you crazy? Have you heard of drug cartels? Violence? Kidnapping?” After offering such encouragement and congratulations, many simply shook their heads in disbelief. To me, their love of tedious routine, predictability, and safety was dismal. To my wife, their warnings added to her apprehensions. Nevertheless, we turned a deaf ear to the naysayers and journeyed forth to a new culture, a new life, a new home in Colombia.
After a couple months of culture shock and acclimating myself to my new position at The Columbus School in Medellin, we came to appreciate the slower pace, the kinder disposition, and the new Colombian friends we were making. Soon my kids were soaking up the language, and all of us enjoyed the climate in Medellin. The school provided an apartment in El Poblado, an upscale area in Medellin. We had a spectacular view of the city, and hanging out by the pool while my son got a crash course in soccer by the other boys in the complex made our new life marveloso! Granted, the talk of kidnappings and the fear stoked by narco-traffickers made us more alert, but we never felt in jeopardy. Our Colombian friends were generous and hospitable, much more genuine than our gringo friends.
It was with heavy hearts when we had to say adios at the end of the school year. We were hoping my school district would extend my one-year sabbatical, but they insisted upon one-year only. My wife, who put the word “shock” in culture-shock and who wanted to go home at Christmas break, now wanted to stay. Many tears were shed when we had to part with our dear friends and beloved Medellin in Colombia.
Now, thirteen years after that departure from Medellin and nearing full-retirement in my teaching career, I am hearing that “song” telling me to set forth again. I’m getting a bit agitated, as I do not want to resign myself to working into my 60’s, living through cold winters, watching grandkids (as cool as that can be), and following the path that so many in the U.S. follow in their later chapters of life. I know Robert Frost is right! I want to take the one less traveled by because I know it will make all the difference. But there’s the rub!! My good wife, even after her year in Medellin experiencing the good-life of Latin culture and Latin friends, has become comfortable once again with the known and the predictable. Now, add grandchildren into the mix, and my hopes seem dashed. Or are they?? Could I find that “less traveled” path once again?
* If you have thoughts for Steven–a lesson to share with this teacher, a plan he should consider to escape the confines of traditional U.S. retirement–let him know. He would love to hear from you. email@example.com