Summer nearly does me in every year. It’s too hot and the light is unforgiving and the days go on way too long. –Anne Lamott
I suppose that today is officially the end of my online teaching job. All grades have been submitted, and the students are eagerly looking ahead to their new classes. There will be no goodbyes, no packing up of desk supplies. Just the simple shutting down of my email account.
Although the work could be overwhelming at times, I will miss that job. It was challenging to find ways to convey concepts and ideas related to writing and literature. Too, there were always the “thank you” emails from students as well as those students who showed such talent and dedication. They definitely made the work worthwhile.
And yet, even with endings, there are beginnings. This blog, for one, and the return to writing. There is some excitement brought by the change and the new endeavors. Also some recognition has already come my way, bringing happiness of its own. One of my Hubs, What to Do When Your Family Member Has a Mental Illness, has been nominated for an award for quality content. You can vote for it at this link. This makes the loss of my job at least a little bit easier.
So yes, jobs come and go, but perhaps we’ll be alright.
I remember watching Orson Welles’ The Man Who Saw Tomorrow with my brother sometime during the 1980’s. As a relative youngster at the time, I was terrified of the implications of the movie. I had very little knowledge of the controversies surrounding Nostradamus’ writings, and so I took it all very seriously. The world would end in the 1990’s, and that was that. Toward the end of the documentary, I turned to my brother and simply said, “Well, I guess we don’t have to go to college.” He nodded agreement.
That afternoon and our encounter with Nostradamus seemed to form a growing fascination with The End. Of course, during the 1980’s, I had plenty of apocalyptic movies and TV shows from which to choose. We feared the Russians and the atomic bomb, and these fears were certainly reflected in our entertainment. Growing up with those movies and shows, though, I felt the world to be ready for apocalypse.
Perhaps the most well known movie of the time was The Day After, which was released when I was in elementary school. That movie was extremely moving and disturbing, and in fact, it still is. At the time, I searched for information on the meaning of an EMP that was accessible at my reading level. The loss of all electronics seemed unimaginable even then; I can’t possibly begin to imagine the devastation now that we depend so much on our computers and phones. Too I attempted to read an adult novel about an atomic blast. I was unable to finish it but longed to know more about these bombs that were such a danger to all of us.
The next year I would see the movie adaptation of The Children’s Story, one apocalyptic story that was a bit different and yet even more alarming. Written by one of the most popular authors of the time, this story takes place in a children’s classroom. A militaristic younger teacher takes over the classroom and systematically breaks down their beliefs. We watched this movie in one of my classes to fill in some spare time. While the other kids seemed ready to leave, I wanted to stay and finish the movie. I was fascinated. The movie was perhaps even more troubling because it showed just how easily our steadfast beliefs can be eroded. Not apocalyptic in the classic sense, it certainly showed the end of our society.
My interest in The End would only grow after that. I would turn again and again to apocalyptic stories that allowed readers a glimpse of not only the depravity of humanity but also our resilience. Although I always love a little action in my movies and tv shows and books, that was not the attraction for these stories. The best of these stories explored the reaction of everyday people to the loss of all that they knew. Would they rise to the occasion and become even better? Or would they become worse than the animals?
It is a difficult question and one that seems even more pressing now that we see daily atrocities in our news. Is this the way of the future, the sight of unimaginable horrors, such as those images coming out of Syria? How can a person survive the total destruction of their world and retain their own humanity?
I wish I knew the answers to these questions. The impossibility of it all is almost enough to make me want to escape into LOL Cats land. I would hope that we wouldn’t do that, however. Apocalyptic fiction at its best can give us some hope for all of us. We, of course, who are reading that fiction must also remember that there are those who don’t have that luxury and who live daily through their own End.
I remember one trip to the mall with my grandmother and mother. As we walked down the aisle, a man sitting at a table said something that I’ll never forget. He simply pointed to us and said, “Mother, daughter, grandmother.” He then went back to eating his corndog.
Continuing with our walk, my mother and I looked at each other and shrugged. The statement was not confrontational, but it somehow seemed to have significance. Humorous, and yet serious at the same time.
Although we went about our day, I would not forget that moment. In my teenage mind, I wanted to think that I would somehow be different. However, I began to realize that day that I would be just like my grandmother and mother. I felt a connection to these two most important women in my life.
As I grew older, I would stop myself after doing or saying something that my mother would have said. “Those darn kids…” would often begin my thoughts as I walked around our apartment complex. My personality also seemed to mysteriously morph into my mother’s, with all of her many quirks. I wondered at the time if this legacy from my mother was truly beneficial as she could often be quite difficult.
Learning to live with my own qualities that were so familiar, I began to see further traits as I grew older. When my chin and cheeks softened, I saw my grandmother staring at me from the mirror. People had often told me that I looked like her, and if she was present, she would respond, “Poor dear.” Now I can truly see the resemblance as the lines form and changes come over my face.
Although I may look more and more like my grandmother each day, I wonder if my personality is like hers as well. She was small in stature but very strong spiritually. Nan had been the “glue” that held our family together and strengthened the bonds between us. Her legacy was one of quiet resilience and surviving hardship.
Now that I am middle aged, I think sometimes about that day when that man pointed out what seemed most obvious. These two women, my mother and grandmother, left me much to think about. While I can’t do much about my looks, I can follow their guidance when it comes to dealing with the problems that life brings.
Both lived through their own struggles, but I think that my grandmother perhaps left the bigger shoes to fill. Having gone through the Great Depression, war, and a 50-year marriage, she saw pretty much everything. Yet she remained dedicated to her family and her faith, quietly supporting those around her.
Can I be like Nan? I don’t know. I can only hope.
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” ― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
“My mother protected me from the world and my father threatened me with it.” –Quentin Crisp
Thanks for showing me the ropes, Dad, and letting me find my own way. You showed me the value of honor and duty and how I might live that out each and every day. Even when times are tough and the world pushes back, you showed me to stand my ground, trying to be the kind of person I was brought up to be no matter what. Tears and heartbreak might come, but I should be strong, like you, and remain true to my beliefs, loyal to my family, and steadfast in my duty.