For the last probably fifteen years, I've had one favorite fantasy about what I'll be when I grow up: a writing teacher. Preferably at a high school or community college. A job where most of what I'd be doing, rather than helping people plan and inhabit a successful writing career, is helping them learn how to use and trust writing as a way to become who they are. I don't know anything about how to do the former, but the latter is pretty much my life story (the learning how part, more so than the perfectly knowing how, mind you.) Some days I get up a little head of steam on this and study the M.F.A. offerings and/or look up the teacher credentialing process. I've done similar work as a writing/teaching assistant as an upperclassman in college, and I loved it. I was good at it.
But approximately eleven years ago, that fantasy got interrupted by "a call" to seminary. It was really serious. I didn't know where it came from, and I didn't know where it was taking me, but it was very insistent, this feeling. I've never been very pious, or, for that matter, evangelistic. I'm just not so certain of what people should believe to feel comfortable in that role. I have a personal faith, that's ebbed and grown, mostly cyclically, over the years. It's informed by religion, but in no way defined by it. In any case, I found a seminary where I could be at home, applied and was accepted. I would have entered the fall after my first husband and I separated -- and, at the time, had I done so, it would have been as if to say, "I want a divorce." I was not prepared to say it at the time (that came approximately six months later), so I deferred for a year. By the following fall, I was in the crazy hormonal stew of no holds barred, falling head over heels in love with Skip, and seminary didn't even make sense to me. I deferred again, understanding that I would have to re-apply when/if the time came again that I was sure that's where I was headed.
But I'd lost that certainty. Not just because of Skip. I'd had a deep emptiness in my life around the time I got that "call," and that "call," and following it, propelled me out of that empty life into a full one -- even if it didn't take me where I thought it'd said to go.
In any case, last night I was at a community function, seated next to a man I've talked to before though never at length. A friend at the table asked him what his wife does and he said, "She's a hospice chaplain."
And then someone at the table said, "That's my dream job!" When all the heads at the table swiveled my way is about when it really penetrated with me that I was the one who'd said it. I can't imagine what expression was on my face at that moment, but in one of those perfect illustrations of the malleability of time, in probably not more than 2 seconds, my brain shuffled and examined memory after memory of feelings, of experience, of books, of things other people have said to me, and when someone who knows me well said, "Really?" I could look her in the eyes and say, "Yeah."
I have had the thought before -- but more as a nebulous kind of "I wish this kind of a job existed," not as a thing I thought I could set out to do. Until he said the words, it didn't seem possible, I suppose, to me, that a person could really have that job. Could actually apply for a position and be paid to sit with people who are dying, loving them across that line, and of then being there for the friends and family, in some meaningful, but totally non-clinical way.
I've been at several death beds in my life. Short of having my daughters handed to me after birth, and the moment I looked into Skip's eyes and learned what 100 percent mutual commitment and adoration feels like, I've never felt so much like I was in the right place at the right time. Teaching (both teaching writing in college, and working with learning delayed kids after college) had echoes of it. When I write, and when something I write communicates, that's a very good feeling, and very analogous to the one I'm writing about now, but short of those things, there's not much else that is quite so "right" a fit. I often feel like an odd person, kind of out of synch with the people and culture around me -- not in a horrible way, nor, I suspect, a unique one. I think primarily in way that reflects not knowing, and not inhabiting, what I'm here to do.
Not everyone believes in this stuff. But I do.
It's a little unnerving to stumble across an unmarked path and feel like you're supposed to follow it. But there's a quiet, private giddiness in me right now that I plan to let sit and germinate -- if that's in fact what it's going to do. The first footfalls along this path are ones I'll be taking all alone, and that's okay.