Sunday, November 17, 2013

Last Year: Sense of Identity

Since I haven't blogged about the last year much lately....some of you may be thinking that I have  forgotten it was my last year of work.....NOT SO.

I wandered into the staff work room one day this last week and found this stuck in my mailbox. Staff ID. What an ordinary and yet profound thing. I actually didn't give it a second thought. Then twirling it in my fingers while talking to someone I realized that this is the LAST staff ID I will be getting. No biggie, right?  It's just a plastic card with a never ending array of bad school pictures! Yet it's not the ID itself but what it represents that gives one pause.

For thirty years when someone asked "What do you do?"  I had a pat answer... "I'm a teacher." or "I'm a middle school counselor."  A sense of work identity defines our lives or at least allows us to name our role. It gives us a goal, a purpose, a sense of meaning in an often meaningless world.

It's just one sense of identity. I have others: daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, church member, writer, etc. Some of those have changed throughout the course of my life. Some of those, honestly, are much more important than work identity. (gasp...I know crazy, right?) 

So often people ask: "What will you do when you are retired?"  Right now I don't have a good answer for that but I can tell you it's not something that I ponder or worry about. Finding something to do isn't something I've ever had trouble with. Oh, yes, there have been times I've been bored. Times where I feel a little lonely because everyone else is busy. Times I'm a bit restless. Those times are normal. People experience them whether they are retired or not. I have home projects, errands, hobbies, and other means of occupying time but that's not really what people mean when they ask: "What will you do?"

What they mean is "what will your identity be?" How will you define your life and what you do?  How will you explain what occupies your time and justify its importance? They don't know they are asking that...but there it is beneath the surface.

And so while I can't tell you exactly what I will be doing with my days. I can tell you that I will not lose my identity. Who I am is much more than the sum of those individual identities: wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, counselor. It's hard to put into words. These thoughts that swirl in my head and are both vague and well defined at the same time.

Perhaps my twitter name sums it up best (although not fully).... astorycollector. Being a story collector is an identity that encompasses all those smaller ones. It's about the story of life, the journey on a path that is as old as time, known yet unknown. It is about embracing life in small ways and big ways. It's a quest that is both internal and external. It's about enjoying the stories of others while creating meaningful ones of my own. Those stories will not end with retirement. I look forward to even richer stories vibrant with color and laughter and a love of life.

It was all that red and white plastic card....the story of identity.

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