Monday, September 21, 2009

Grandfather of Eight

"They all got married and they didn't hesitate,
I was, whoo!, Oh, Lord, the grandfather of eight."

I am called toward retirement.

With the beginning of another school year, this lifelong teacher is feeling the rush of possibility. Every year since I began Kindergarten I have felt a surge of positive energy at the end of the Summer. That energy was intense last year. I was bursting out of the cloud of grief over San’s death in June. This year I feel it and savor it as one savors the last sip of a good bottle of wine, because this year is my last as the leader of the Missouri Humanities Council. Each opportunity to shed light, to liberate creative energy, feels like a chance to pitch for a World Series win or to write a line as good as “Fourscore and seven years ago.”

I will retire on May 15. I am not leaving because the work has grown predictable. To the contrary, in the work of discovery, nothing is predictable, nothing is done by formula. It is all done by meeting people who want to be effective, who want to work their way out of knots and pockets of discouragement, and by thinking with them about “what if?” This work is done by learning about this or that town, or this or that subject, or this or that challenge, and seeing what can be done that is uplifting, constructive of human intelligence, and constructive of relationships.

I am “called” to my retirement as I was called to music, to writing, and to teaching. I am called to create what I hope will be a happy closing section in the story of my life. San felt that death cheated her out of sharing this part of life with me. We had been thinking of how and where we might spend it, and then we were suddenly focused on negotiating for the best quality that could be wrestled away from a quickening shortage of time.

In one sense, I owe it to San to live that wished-for final chapter, and I owe that chapter to Kathy, who married me in July. Before she died, San blessed me, and whoever would become my next love and marriage. Kathy and I feel as if our departed spouses nudged us toward each other. We belong together. Our life honors the lives of Tom Wofford and Sandra Bouman, and their parents and grandparents all the way back to Adam and Eve.

I think of retirement as a lived blessing. One of life’s miracles or graces is that an imagined good is instantly transported from the future to the present, so that it is spilled liberally on our path, a libation of goodness.

My cup of goodness includes eight grandchildren. The baby girl in the picture is my youngest, Arianah Wofford. This time last year, thanks to my daughter Jennifer's marriage in 2006 to Jared Steagall, I had two teenage grandchildren. Now Kathy has brought six younger ones into our big family. Until last month, when I met Arianah and her three siblings, I had not actually held and entertained a baby in thirty-six years! It was as if no time had passed. I am called to be a grandfather! Visiting my big family is now a calling.

In my new chapter, I imagine I will join the Y, and that I will volunteer in some form of teaching capacity. I would love to be a tour guide in a fine art museum, for instance. I would love to conduct a workshop on collage and Cubism in which the song lyrics of Bob Dylan were part of the mix. I would love to lead book discussions. I would love to write a form of music criticism that I haven’t seen much of since I last wrote a bit of it 35 years ago. I think the music critic has a social function to fulfill and that the function is to expand the intelligence of the reader.

Naturally, I will sing as long as I can with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. I will take Kathy to the opera, here, in New York, in Santa Fe, and who knows where else? She and I will develop our gardens and I will breed daylilies in the summer and dream about their beauties the rest of the time. If you want to see some of mine, just Google for Daylily Lay, and sing that name, don't just speak it.

Retirement is eight months away now. Until then, I'm going to have the time of my life in this work I love so well.


Anonymous said...

Much congratulations, Michael! You make retirement sound soooo inviting -- and busy (doing fun stuff). All the best, Karen Robinson (Univ. of MO)

Wendy said...

We have botanical gardens, concerts, symphonies, opera, ballet and a world competely different from Missouri. We invite you and Kathy to spend some of your retirement with us in Ukraine. Congratulations as you enter this new stage of life. Keith, Wendy, Shelby & Ryan

Unknown said...

Michael, though I'm happy for you, I'm also sort of sad that I've only just discovered the MO Humanities Council just as you retire, and before you do, I want to thank you (and of course Patricia, as well) for your inspiration and assistance and for helping us make my 10th year with the Johnson County Historical Society "transformative" --please come see.