“Thanks, again, Laura, for letting me know." Although I am her
principal, I honestly had no idea she had decided to retire. "It
certainly will be a big change for our school when we return in the
fall.” I hung up the phone, ending the unexpected conversation with our
school district’s Director of Human Resources. It was 4:15 pm on the
last day of the school year, and I looked out the window to see bright
sunshine and a nearly vacant parking lot.
Stepping out of my office, I was startled to see the retiring teacher standing at the reception desk with her laptop computer in hand. “I came to return this in person,” she explained. “May I come in?”
“Of course,” I agreed. “I’ve just heard the big news.” As I turned to re-enter my office, I had time for a few silent rounds of my mantram.
She handed over the computer and situated herself uncomfortably in the chair across my desk. I guessed that the honest feedback I had been requesting for several years was about to be forthcoming. . .
I guessed right. We spent about 45 minutes together in my office, more one-on-one time than we’d spent together all year. She had collected her thoughts to present me with several knife-edged points of advice about how I could be better at my job, without any compliments or affirmations to coat the pill.
Slowing down is an elusive point for me. I’ve been rewarded on the surface of life for being able to do things quickly and accomplishing many things, both large and small. Perhaps this can be partially attributed to the Army recruiting TV ad from my childhood, “We do more before 9 am than most people do all day. . . Be all that you can be. . . ” Or maybe it is related to being the oldest child in a single parent household, or maybe it is simply my karma. Probably some combination of all those things, right? I’m relieved Easwaran deemphasizes finding the “why” to questions like these, focusing, instead, on the work of making our lives a work of art.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux vividly described the deeply ingrained compulsion to achieve with a few lines from That Wondrous Star: “When the waves of pride or ambition batter your soul, of slander or jealousy, anger or lust. . . ” The episode with the retiring teacher was a tsunami on my ego, the part of my being that had been rewarded for achievement. I can’t imagine a better prompt for reflection and planful action.