To set the foundation for my 20-year “Labor Day Weekend” stories, I have to search back a bit to life before this year.
It’s 2011! I’m waking this morning to a sunny day in Chicago…enjoying a cup of tea and wondering where time has gone. I turned 40 this year and thought the passage to a new decade would bring feelings of despair and change. 40 has always seemed so old to me, but at this moment, I feel healthier, stronger, and more sure of who I am than any other time in my life. I remember hearing women compliment the impact of age and thought they were just bluffing as a coping tool, but I’m happy to find out I was wrong. Being youthful is really a mental state and I am happy to say that I believe I will be perpetually young at heart.
To this point, life has been filled with a ton of ups and a few downs. The death of my parents as a young adult had a lifelong impact. Outside of a chronic sense of that loss, I also gained an instant understanding of how important it is to value relationships, never leave things unsaid, and live a juicy life without regrets…never waiting for a tomorrow that might not come.
I married my best friend with few other passionate experiences and believe that we set the foundation for future relationships and taught each other what we needed to be truly happy…things that the other could never provide. I will be forever grateful for that. Scattered and seemingly distant memories of that displaced-feeling life, and knowledge of the wife I will never be, have opened my eyes to the value of romantic adventures and exploring new friendships. In the same way I love to explore the world, I have become aware of the pleasures of romance and the serendipitous feelings of the unknown. I pay more attention to people now than ever before and have found that there is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.
Which brings me to travel…my passion and Achilles’ heel at the same time. Each place I go leaves me wanting to see more…experience more…go more. In the past year, I have visited Egypt, Jerusalem, Peru, and India. I can’t describe my feelings for each of those places…in some ways like a fingerprint on my heart and others like a kick to my chest. I can’t stop feeling their impact and the way these places have influenced my life. People ask me when I will have enough, but as my plane lands at home, I am restlessly imagining my next journey. While I love my home and can’t imagine not having a Chicago base, I know that my wandering spirit is not a youthful indulgence but a lifestyle of choice.
For the past 19 years, my life has also centered on work. As an educator, I have struggled with the balance between my home life, professional passion, and desire to make a difference. I have moved around in a non-traditional career path with a detour to school administration where I am currently a high school assistant principal. I am lucky to have a job I love, but am coming to terms with keeping parts of my life wholly my own. There were days when I loved my job more than anything and found myself working well into each night. Now, as I drive down the expressway and see the city before me, my pulse quickens as I am happily reminded the I am going home.
A perfect transition to discuss my love of this city…the energy of Chicago is deeply embedded in my soul. The pace, the beauty, the generous Midwestern appeal of it all is like no other place I’ve visited. At the time, spending over ten years in suburbia seemed like a despair from which I would never recover, but now I have learned that the lifelong appreciation I have developed for this city would never have been the same without my “collar county” days. I love my home! I love my home! I love my home! It’s the constant thought in my mind as I wander these streets.
I must stop to say that I understand the power and beauty of a suburban life. I think it’s a very cool thing and honor the commitment and selflessness of friends who are living that dream. But years of being a spectator in a life that wasn’t right for me, and feeling a bit like a mismatched puzzle piece, have taught me where I fit the best.
2011 – like all years before – has me surrounded by amazing people. As I gather my friends for a group picture, I often have to laugh at the same faces and poses from my bunk-bed photo shot in college. I have been blessed with a lifetime of friendships from an “inner circle” of people I love. I could write a book detailing these friendships that mean so much to me, but suffice to say, I feel like the luckiest friend in the world to have so many lasting people to love. From my early adult life, I have mentors who have guided my way and been there through tough times. Without parents, I have sought and received guidance from aunts I love, friends from my earliest days, family members who I would choose as friends, “adults” in my life, and an unusual lasting friendship or two from suburbia.
In the past five years, I can say that some of the most special people have been hand-placed in my life in the most unusual places. There is no doubt in my mind that divine intervention gave me a few friends for life who were met in distant locations and the gift of two Burmese girls to mentor whose family came to the US as refugees from Thailand. Watching these girls grow up for the past four years, and observing their developing sense of confidence and independence has been so much fun. One of my favorite moments of the year was when I was downtown and the 12 year old looked at me as I wondered how I would fit our crowd of new Egyptian guests into my car to take them home. Her words of, “You take those guys in your car and I’ll take the others back to your house on the blue line,” made me nearly burst with pride…all this from a girl who didn’t speak a word of English when we met.
While I don’t have children of my own, and feel that this is the right thing for me, I am bombarded by the ability to give and receive adoration from terrific children and friends who let me reap the joy of watching their children grow before my eyes. Being “Aunt Nanny” is a lot like being Jan’s crazy aunt on the Brady Bunch (old reference – I know) but there is a celebrity status from these kids for the wandering lady who visits their home regularly and sends exotic gifts from around the world. Sometime in the next 20 years, I expect them to be my wandering travel companions. Social networking has also opened the doors to global friendships and maintaining relationships in ways that have never been available before. I am grateful for my new friends from everywhere and relationships that have stood the test of struggle and time.
For cultural reference, there are lots of things that seem important – to me and others- in 2011. This is the 10-year remembrance of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A sense of tension is in the air. The economy is an ongoing concern with more people feeling the strains of unemployment and financial loss. Technology has changed our lives at a rapid pace. I’m waiting for my iPhone 5…any day now. Chicago has a new mayor after years of Daley days. Education is at a crossroads – and may always be as we struggle to make the insides of schools feel more like the technological and fast paced world outside the doors. Labor Day weekend is the traditional family reunion time and I am happily heading to see those distant relatives I sadly see only once a year. My aunt moved nearby and it’s exciting to have some “pop in” family. I am eagerly beginning to save money for an “around the world” journey and hope that 2012 will find me…well, who knows!
As I write this post, with the intention of writing every Labor Day Weekend, I don’t want to rush time, but I wish I could read my future posts through the year (god-willing) 2031. What will life be like? I can’t even imagine, but can’t wait to find out!
I wonder how your lives will evolve, too. I will happily turn the pages and read the stories of your journey as we enjoy this ride together.