As I continue with the internship in pastoral ministry I find that something interesting is occurring, connections between my personal life, my pastoral work, and my professional life as an aging teacher are forming almost faster than I can track or take time to consider.
I write more specific reports for my supervisors on another page, but then I come here to record more general thought in an attempt to see a bigger picture. The work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (On Death and Dying) was the common thread this week.
One of the reading assignments for my 9th grade students this week was an interview with Dr. Kubler-Ross on coping with terminal diseases in children, and how ‘unfinished business’ must be taken care of to forestall more serious problems when it is too late to communicate because a death has intervened. I explained to my students that the classic stages of death and dying as described by Kubler-Ross in her landmark book could be expanded to any loss situation. I had almost forgotten a counselor once told me that it did not take a death to grieve; one could grieve a future that suddenly was lost for some unexpected reason.
I know I grieved when I was honest enough to admit that I was not meant to be a career officer in the Marine Corps and I think I went through every stage. Twenty-seven years removed, some things still hurt about leaving the Corps but losing one life allowed me to live others I never envisioned. I grieved other sudden changes in family life that meant a future was forever changed, and a particular vision of that future was lost. Each school I worked at, and then moved away from, was a time for celebration, but grieving too. In every instance I think I would have to admit that I went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to some degree or another. The essence of Kubler-Ross’ work is that we all go through these stages to a greater or lesser extent, and if we know this, the stages are a little easier to handle.
After a person I visited in ministry a short time ago died (we think) of a drug overdose, and after visiting people who are in wheelchairs living a future I am sure they never envisioned earlier in their lives, I suddenly saw some connections.
I think I am working through these stages of loss in my teaching career. This career will end in two years. I would like to go longer but I will not extend my career if I do not have enough left to give. I have been in denial, and anger, that I am at the stage of a career where I have less value than a newer, cheaper, and probably easier to work with, teacher. I want to get to the acceptance stage as soon as possible because then, no matter how long I continue to teach, it will be easier to let go when the time comes.
In looking at the past in terms of being a teacher, I have also had to look at the future. I devoted many years to getting a degree, and trying to answer a perceived call, to shape myself into a person better able to help my local church community. Lately I have been trying to come to terms with the fact such a future is unlikely. I had hoped to build a bridge from the end of a teaching career into another kind of service in my community, and for reasons I do not really understand, I do not think that is going to happen. And so I have to mourn a future I wanted, one that is not going to happen. I am actually farther ahead in this process than I am in the teaching although I am not sure why, probably because of all the years invested in teaching.
Twenty-eight years ago I came to the decision that I was not meant to serve a lifetime in the Marine Corps and I tried to let go. I embraced another career of serving, one I was much more suited for although I could not see it then.
Here is to hoping that history repeats itself. It will be easier to let go of teaching, when that time comes, if I can believe there are still other ways to serve. If such service is not local, I think I can do that. Perhaps I am promised other sheep, in other pastures, to use a very old, and yet serviceable, metaphor.
And so here is to service, and teaching, and ministry, and sheep, and my freshmen….