Tomorrow marks the transition for many of my friends and colleagues who work in education, the first “operational” day before kids return to school on September 1. Today it looks and feels like fall. Robins and finches are gathering in our yard, enjoying a pre-migration picnic of mayday berries. The temperature has dropped like a stone, inviting a return to long sleeves, sweaters, sox and jeans. Leaves are taking on a golden cast. The sun now rises well into my morning sit time, and sets well before sleep. The light has changed.
So it is today that I awoke feeling out of sorts…a bit wistful, melancholy even, wondering where summer went and what this full year of seasons holds for me? I won’t be going “back to work” tomorrow. Today is the “formal” eve of my year off. And as I settle into this, I’m now beginning to feel a curious, wondering excitement with this extended gift of time and space in which to explore.
I’ll be heading to Canmore to ground this unusual beginning in the majesty of the mountains, visiting and hiking with friend. I’m bringing, as per her request, “good ideas, a listening ear and a city treat” – some of the harvest gifted to us by i nostri amici cari italiane (our dear Italian friends) who came for dinner last night. Their generosity astounds me… bounty from their garden for our table, and a book on Italian culture and cuisine to whet my appetite for my trip to Italy.
The “good ideas” include how she can launch a “story slam” kind of event for the writers in her community, and some notions on leadership and vocation, most recently inspired by my re-reading of Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak (2000).
Parker is one of my most favourite writers. His Courage to Teach (1998) is the most eloquent, thoughtful, and accurate description of the vocation of teaching: “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” (10) When I was in Chicago, I literally awoke from a dream in which I remarked that I was so thankful Parker Palmer was now my good friend, as Dewitt Jones had been in the past. This portent was an invitation to revisit his two books in my personal library, books, just from their titles – Let Your Life Speak and A Hidden Wholeness (2004) – I sensed would bring wise guidance for this year.
Identity and integrity are among his predominant themes, so too vocation, authenticity, community, soul, silence and tending to one’s inner work, all written within a backdrop of lived experience and personal disclosure. A wise mentor and kindred spirit if ever…
“Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live me?” reads the cover-leaf, and serves as my year’s leitmotif. Drawing from Quaker tradition, to “let your life speak” means “before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”(5)
So as I embark upon this year of exploration – moving at the pace of guidance, sensing an emerging future to listen to and heed my life’s deepest calling – and as my friends and colleagues begin again theirs, Parker gives us all wise counsel, citing Frederick Buechner:
“True vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”