Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Passing the baton


By JOELLEN COLLINS

This has been a tumultuous summer for me, full of great highs and rather low lows. What I previously addressed in this column was the lesson that this is merely how life happens, though in this case events tumbled together. As I write from Los Angeles after some intense weeks of emotional experience, I have a sense that I am being taught another lesson—acceptance and letting go.

I am here for the final reunion of 15 teams of UCLA students who traveled to India on speaking tours in the 1950s and '60s. Most were changed by the vivid and challenging experience of living 10 weeks in India (our team spent half that time in Calcutta) and the life-expanding knowledge gained from trying to understand a culture so different from our own. I am eagerly awaiting our discussions and presentations from college friends who have gone on to achieve amazing lives of service, one a former ambassador to Iraq, another a former president of William and Mary College, another who became a nun after encountering the then Sister Theresa, as we all did. Without undue sadness, I am having mixed feelings about this event, aptly titled the Sunset Reunion. In the past few years, we have seen many of our colleagues leave this world, and it is simply getting harder to travel and meet from our scattered residences. I must, this weekend, say goodbye to people I probably will not see again. I have to let go.

Before going to the hotel for the first part of our reunion at UCLA's Faculty Club (another source of nostalgia), I am staying at the home of friends who date back to the early days of my marriage to the father of my children. How much we always seem to play catch-up! Fortunately, right now I do not have to say goodbye to them in the larger sense, but still the distance of our homes from each other hinders the special communication we have. I miss them. I know that time runs swiftly, so I cherish all these moments with friends. Nonetheless, I have to let go.

The hardest lesson I have had recently has occurred around my role as a teacher. If you have read my columns in the past, you know how inspired I am by teaching and how much I crave that role, one I have been filling since I was 22. It is hard for me to imagine not communicating with vibrant teenagers, with the resulting sense of worth, and not having the daily camaraderie with school colleagues. I am fortunate to enjoy occasional escapades with my passion, teaching. However, as I age, opportunities diminish. While being in the classroom is a delight for me, younger, talented instructors need opportunities to teach. Perhaps I will have to pass the baton. It may hurt me, but I have had experiences of richness that are already ingrained in me. It may be time to share those chances for the light of my profession to touch others. I may have to let go.

I just celebrated a really big birthday, but not in the expected way: There were no surprise parties—no fetes. However, what did happen that birthday weekend was appropriately precious. I went to talk, rest and savor the beauty of Redfish Lake with a dear friend. The next day I saw a matinee with my daughter and had dinner at her restaurant with an old friend attending the writers' conference. On Monday, I talked with friends and family on the phone and topped off the night by boldly announcing my event at the Caritas Chorale rehearsal and a melodious rendition of "Happy Birthday." Couldn't have been better!

I have never been ashamed of my age except when I turned 40 and was in an acting workshop at the Burbank Studios. Just before my romantic scene with a younger actor, the director brought me a cake heavy with 40 candles. I thought my partner would throw up when he realized that he was about to kiss an old lady! Since then I have decided that that is a perception for others. I feel vital, younger than I am, and about to embrace some new paths ahead, including some terrific family news. Letting go of false expectations will free me to pass on the baton of some areas of experience to others. Then I can slow down, look back at a good run and enjoy the different pace.




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