Dragging her sore limbs out of bed this morning was no more or less difficult than usual, but a glance in the mirror told her that her attitude was sagging lower than ever. She could blame it on the Kentucky legislature for cutting the education budget so deeply. She knew the money saved from lost jobs and pensions was intended to go to wealthy lawmakers and their friends and families through tax cuts only they would enjoy. Her own friends had to wait as she did to see whose job would be cut next. Or she could blame her mood on Washington, where weeds of corruption were pushing through marble and concrete, choking and threatening to kill democracy. She could blame the weather, certainly, still bone-chilling cold with a freeze warning in effect in April.
But all of that was secondary to the real problem weighing down her morning mood. She had been through times like this before. She had gone through a time like this as a child, and the culprits were not state or local governments. Her lethargic feeling came not from the specifics of the current political environment, but from the powerlessness she was tempted to feel. Powerless as a girl, overrun by dictators in her own home, she had learned early that she could not control her own destiny. As a young woman she had often been left out of the commons, she had been sequestered to a domestic domain, and on the rare occasions when she stepped out into the light of day and dared to speak her mind she had been systematically ignored. This was not new, this feeling of being overwhelmed by people with ill-begotten power they abused. But sixty-six years is a long haul, and sometimes she just woke up tired.
The worst thing about growing old, she thought as she dressed for work, is this terrible exhaustion, this aching in every muscle. She dreaded the drive, the long walk from her car to her office in the cold wind. She wondered how she would really feel if her job was terminated in the coming weeks. Would she care? Would she be devastated? Would she be relieved? She knew it mattered more to some of her colleagues, the ones who were younger and had children at home; the ones who had debts to pay and were too young for social security; the ones who had no pension. But she had loved her job for decades and she wasn’t sure what her life would be like without it. The heavy fog of uncertainty and fear began to close in on her. She knew that she needed to do something to lift the cloud so that she could see her way forward.
The best thing about growing old, she thought as she got into her car, is having been through times like this before. She had an old road map somewhere, the memory of what she had done to help herself when she had faced the formidable unknowns in her past. She didn’t have to get lost, no matter how many twists and turns and obstacles others might put in her path. As she twisted the key in the ignition and slipped the car into drive she turned her thoughts to her personal survival manual she had filed away with her maps.
She remembered what she had learned when she was young, when she broke away from the bonds that constrained her and surged into a future more solidly her own. There were three steps she needed to follow to find her way: Step One: She had to determine what things were beyond her control, the things she could not change. That was easy. To begin with, the decision about the renewal of her current contract would not likely be hers. Before she allowed that to scare her back into the fog of fear she remembered Step Two: She had to determine what things she could control. That step had always been harder, but it was liberating to realize that she did have some things that were hers to decide. Those who controlled her current position did not control her career, her economic well-being, or her enjoyment of her life work. They controlled one thing, one important but limited decision; she controlled how she would respond before and after they made it. Her life path belonged to her, and she could decide. That was Step Three.
The memory that she was not totally without power excited her. Her mind began to clear. The morning dew sparkled on the grass along the highway, and she saw it. The sun lifted the mist. The sky seemed a brighter blue than she had noticed in a long while. Ideas began to emerge as she drove toward work. What would she like to do with her life, now? She had skills and she had always had a strong will and a creative spirit. There was so much work to be done, the world around her was a mess and she wanted to continue to work with others to change it! What could she do this time to make herself happy and free and useful? As the sun rose higher in the sky she drove on, down a road of seemingly endless possibilities. Another bend in the long road of life would lead to her next scary but inviting adventure.