This post should have been posted weeks ago. My initial plan was to list it as a Wordless Wednesday piece featuring before and after photos of my Florida garden, courtesy of Google maps.
But as I often do for a Wordless Wednesday post, I like to add a few words — only this time, the words were making a wordless post a bit wordier. So Wednesdays came and went, and as I stared at the two photos — the before and after of a landscape — I thought of my own before and after.
A lot has changed for me in the past few years.
Here is a summary of my before:
For more than 25 years, I worked as a school social worker in a Long Island high school, where I also acted as coordinator for a program designed for at-risk youth. Several years ago, as I sat in my office, I didn’t quite feel right. These were symptoms that had become familiar to me: shortness of breath, ache in my left arm.
A visit to my cardiologist and a stress test revealed another blockage to my heart, one that was aggravated by cold and stress. Rather than add another stent to my collection of 13, my doctor decided to treat it with medication and a recommendation that I take some time off.
That’s when Joe and I thought it best that I take an extended medical leave, spend more time in Florida, and de-stress. When the leave came to an end, I opted for an early retirement.
Going through that decision-making process was a stress test in itself. For more than two decades, I knew my role. I knew what was expected of me. I knew my place. I knew how to do my job.
Recently, my colleagues invited me back to recognize me at the school’s retirement party. To say I was touched and moved is simply not enough.
As I circulated the room, greeting and hugging so many people and thanking them for their kind words, it occurred to me: at this stage in my life, I will never have a work experience like this, in which people simply get me. The relationships and friendships I had made had lasted longer than many marriages.
I think this one of the reasons I’ve been thinking of my before and contemplating my after.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a person who does as he’s told, who colors within the lines — except for a few years in the ‘80s when spandex, hair gel, and shredded clothing were about as far from the path as I ventured.
Through it all, though, I’ve thought of Margaret Roach, a talented writer, gardener, and the woman behind the popular “A Way To Garden” blog. In her book, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, Ms. Roach documents her decision to leave her corporate position at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for a more tranquil and fulfilling existence at her home and garden in upstate New York.
As she wrote: “Who am I if I am not mroach@marthastewart dot com any longer?”
I understand that, especially now. It feels a bit like being stripped down, naked, and vulnerable. The titles we either give ourselves or have been given to us are a warm security blanket, a costume that we put on to face the world.
As exciting as it is to stand in a place full of possibilities, where I can redesign myself — it’s also a bit terrifying. Very terrifying. I’m not a fan of rollercoasters or scary movies, either. I like to know where I’m going and what’s in front of me. I’m more Mary than Rhoda.
Since arriving in Florida, I’ve worked at creating a landscape in a blank yard — and I’ve had lots of time to wonder about the blank slate that is now me. While I no longer wish to be a social worker, I would like to use those skills in a new way. Because of this blog, I would also like to do something more creative.
I keep telling myself to enjoy the journey — and I’m really trying. One of the greatest surprises was taking a part-time job in the garden center of a large box store. It may not be the nursery of my dreams, but I am absolutely loving it and learning so much (more posts on this topic will follow).
For six hours, Monday through Friday, I get to water plants, talk to customers about their garden ideas and questions, and smell mulch. Most people — including my coworkers — think I’m insane for enjoying work in a garden center in the South Florida summer, but maybe this is all part of the journey that I’m supposed to be enjoying on the path to my after.
By now, you probably have a better sense about why this post was too wordy for a wordless midweek day. Such is the state of my mind these days.
Nevertheless, the whole purpose of this post was to share the after photo of my garden. If you look closely on the left side of the picture, the Google camera has captured a hatted gardener, who is — like the garden — a work in progress.