Thoughts On an Early Retirement
With the whirl of shopping Cores and eager student groups out to recruit volunteers, it seems as though there are infinite options for the new semester. Before I was always a part of it: postering in the early morning cold, sending countless e-mails to potential volunteers, thanking God that the student-group rush comes at the beginning of the term when no classwork is necessary. I saw my friends race back into daily athletic practices and return to their rooms with barely enough energy to crash. A brand new semester and everybody already seemed so tired.
Now, fewer crazy time commitments hang over my head, and I am forced to ask myself a somewhat scary question: what do I want to do? I absolutely love the programs I've been involved with, what we've achieved together and how I've been changed as a person. I will always be dedicated to working toward the goals that we designed our programs to address.
However, there can come a point when daily actions, though essential, seem far from why you initially became committed to a cause. Although each phone call has value, you make the tenth call out of a sense of obligation rather than because it brings great personal joy; your voice, against your will, reveals the loss in enthusiasm as the night continues.
These days, I don't have my trusted "busy" excuse to keep my thoughts from wandering. Except for maybe watching soap operas, free time makes me uncomfortable. I feel a little lost when I see my friends racing off to meetings and I don't have four per day anymore. I thought about taking six classes, devoting morning meeting time to hardcore workouts, learning how to ballroom dance or volunteering at a hospital.
But these options are also ways to avoid being with myself, to avoid coming home in the afternoon and taking a nap or a walk and deciding what I really care about right now. Although the kids I worked with never failed to make me smile, there were days when I wasn't enjoying the time we spent together or really listening to all of their ideas. My older brothers are always full of great advice: "Tig," they say, "Three things: study less, spend less time on all these crazy activities and go out more." My roommates agree and quote Indigo Girls, telling me I need to take life less seriously and get a little closer to fine.
Although I laughed off their suggestions then, they saw something I didn't. During one discussion on the power of community organizations, I was disappointed that a volunteer didn't want to change his level of involvement. When I asked why, I was blown away. He wrote, "I feel like I've made a promise to [my mentee] and I don't want to break it, not when so many promises have been broken before. These little promises are the most important promises I can make. The promise is simple--I will do everything I can to make you feel better--and my job is to follow through with that, first on the personal level, and only after that, on the larger, organizational level."
A part of me is sad, missing all of the responsibility that comes with leading a student group. But a bigger part is starting to remember why I have always wanted to teach and work with families. It's exciting actually to have a conversation with my little sib and spend an afternoon together doing nothing at all. It's incredible to share a Saturday morning on a snow-covered basketball court in Central Square challenging her to another game of Around-the-World, without looking at my watch first or stifling a yawn.
I'm trying to learn how to relish the free time that can reinvigorate us and make possible giving fully of ourselves. Actualizing our passions is the most fulfilling thing in the world. We can accomplish the amazing whether at a hospital in Boston or the fields across the river. I look back on semesters of hard work and note great results, but the weeks and meetings blend together. What I'm thinking about now are my relationships with kids and families and volunteers and friends, how much I value them and wish I'd been able to invest more of myself in them. Every experience is broken down into tiny moments. And those instances of human connection not only foster happiness but also generate change in individuals and communities.
Individual relationships strengthen the structure, vision and impact of any community group, or of any group at all. This semester, as we have the opportunity to choose among all of these possibilities or again immerse ourselves completely in our life's work, I hope to take some time to create and enjoy those small moments. Hopefully we won't be so tired and busy that we can't find the energy to recognize and experience them.
Tiger Edwards '01 is a psychology concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.