For the past few nights I have been dreaming that I'm back in places I lived and worked years ago, back as 48-year-old me, working in those jobs now. Two nights ago I was in Kentucky, where I lived and worked for six summers, on a horse farm, helping take care of the kids. What prevailed in the dream was the beauty of the place: the lush greens and the old-world feel of the environment. It was a happy dream. Last night I was back at Emma Willard School, where I was once a second-grade teacher, in the days when there was a children's school. Surrounded by kids and the immense beauty of the architecture of Emma Willard, it, too, was a pleasant dream.
I'm curious about life's habit of bringing things back around for us. I love how people return to us, sometimes in the most surprisingly simple of ways: you're walking through a crowded airport and you see someone you haven't seen in years; you may be far away from home and you round a corner and there he or she is, along with a flood of emotions and memories.
I like the feeling that life takes us on a kind of circuitous route and not a straight line from birth to death. I'm certain I dreamt about those old work environments because I am spending a lot of mental energy these days trying to figure out where I am headed next, vocationally. Chaplaincy? Ministry? Ethics work? My intrigue with the bioethics component of a person's medical journey has crept up in me and added a whole new dimension to my thinking about the days to come.
Perhaps my subconscious is taking me on a little journey back through my previous working incarnations to remind me of the things I loved before I move forward into something new. When I think back over all the places I've been and the ways I've earned a paycheck, one thing stands out as the thing that mattered the most: people. As a teacher it was the kids and their infinite joy and curiosity and the other teachers, some of whom became lifelong friends. As an AmeriCorps member, newspaper editor, shop keeper, photographer...the task was secondary to the people I met along the way. It's the stories of those people I carry with me through my life, not the Election Day newspaper edition we published at midnight nor the second-grade unit of study on Japan; it wasn't the leather chairs we sold the first day Kristin and I had our shop nor the photo of the weeping father of the bride. Nope. All along the path of this interesting life, it has been about the people. And, too, the magic and the mystery that brought us together, and how so very often the person with whom we need to speak shows up right when we need them; how someone reappears, even decades later, perhaps because the connection wasn't made solid enough the first time around -- the story needs more time to unfold, the lesson has yet to be absorbed.
I had lunch with my brother the other day and he said something I thought was wise. And interesting. He said..."I turned off my phone the other night and left it alone for a while. And I realized that what I was left with my my actual life -- the people I truly know and love." It was the most obvious thing in the world, but it certainly gave me pause. Most of us have spent a lot of energy building sometimes vast networks of web-based "friends." And it's feeling more and more like we're all walking on a frozen lake in springtime. I sense a collective weariness, a desire to return to the shore, where the people we know and love and trust are standing. The ones at the ready with the life raft; the ones who will happily sit with us for hours around the campfire.
Joni Mitchell is probably right -- we most likely are captive on a carousel of time -- the grand circle of life, from birth to life to death. With no way to know how long we get to stay on the ride, I would suggest that you did what my brother did, and on an increasingly regular basis: step away from your web-based life and move back, deeper into your real life. Where the people who love you are waiting for your undivided attention.