The first time I felt a real sense of purpose was when I gave birth to my daughter Carmen. Up until that point, life had just pretty much happened to me. At a younger age I had experienced some unsuccessful attempts of contributing to my family. Like the time I asked the owner of the liquor store, who exchanged my mother’s food stamps for money so she could pay the rent, if I could organize the shelves in exchange for eggs and a gallon of milk. Or the time I got up super early in the morning to make eggs, but burned them because I didn’t add oil to the pan. I can still smell the burnt shame of having wasted the little food we had.
During a great part of my adolescence, I spent my weekends traveling with my grandmother on city buses a couple of hours each way to my mom’s house to wash clothes, clean the house, and cook for my brothers. She was a single mother doing the best she could to pay the bills, and didn’t have time for anything else. I lived with my grandmother and felt some sense of responsibility for helping her and my mother.
Having Carmen gave me purpose for the type of mother I wanted to be and the kind of woman I wanted to evolve into. It was after giving birth to her that I realized going to college was my only choice of giving her a better life than the one I had had. When I went to college, I was faced with having to decide what I would major in and what career path I wanted to take in my life. Teaching was one of the few careers I had been exposed to through my own experience in school. I read my first novel in college and fell in love with literature, and with the idea of supporting and inspiring students through their journeys the way a few teachers had supported me. Becoming an English teacher became the most logical next step.
As I embarked on my educational journey, I also began to heal and discover the powerful, confident, and passionate woman that existed inside of me. I began to make a difference, not just in my daughter, but in the lives of the children I served. In turn that made me more passionate and committed to my work. For the first time in my life I had a vision, a sense of purpose, and most of all a deep-rooted belief that I was “somebody” and could make a difference in the world.
My journey as a teacher, thirteen years to be exact, has transformed my life. All the love that I poured into the students, I have gotten back twofold. A few years ago I started to contemplate the idea of doing something other than teaching. I took a leave-of-absence from teaching to work at a youth development program for Rady Children’s Hospital, which I later resigned from, and took an extended leave-of-absence to witness my grandmother wrestle with cancer, and watch her body wither away as it conceded to the demands of the cancer.
At age 36, when I thought I had nailed my purpose, and for the first time felt stability and certainty in my life, I had to learn to live without my grandmother. That same year, I also had to learn to let go of my daughter who was embarking on her own journey as she began her first year of college. The only things that were still certain in my life were the people I loved and teaching. There was a small part of me that knew then the season of teaching would also come to an end, but it was the last part of my identity I could still hold on to, so I went back. At the same time, there was a growing yearning that existed inside of me that was parched for coming alive, not as a mother, or a teacher, or a wife, but as a woman. A woman who for the first time in her life had to find a vision and purpose for herself. The spiritual, physical, and emotional signs are always there guiding us – it is when we refuse to listen or aren’t still and quiet long enough to listen that we get into trouble.
I went back to teaching. I tried new approaches, as I always had, to invigorate myself and my students. Those two years were liberating because for the first time I was teaching from a place of spirit, and I was teaching what the kids wanted to learn not what the standards dictated. It was the first time in my teaching experience that I saw such an incredible transformation in my student. Underneath the excitement however, there was still a part of me that knew I needed to let go of more.
The process of letting go began a few years ago when the universe forced me to let go of things I had absolutely no control over. I didn’t quite listen as I was supposed to, because as I was letting go, I was also bringing in new things into my life that weren’t serving what my spirit wanted to welcome into my life. I find those yearnings to be screaming louder than the bluster of fear and uncertainty. Now the things I have to let go of are in my control, and the decisions are often much more difficult.
This past school year I knew I could not come back to teaching. I decided to enjoy my summer hoping some miracle and transformation would happen that would guide me to the answer I was looking for, at least the one I thought I was looking for. Needless to say here I am one week into the new school year, and even being around the students doesn’t invigorate me anymore. I love the students – they are amazing and beautiful spirits with so much vigor and purity of heart. So it’s weird that for the first time even they can’t get me to want to stay. I’ve been meditating and praying, asking spirit to give me clarity. Though I don’t have clarity of what I am supposed to do next, I am clear that leaving is the right choice.
A student once asked, “There are just so many things to let go, but they keep lingering, coming back. Does it always seem this difficult?”
My response and reflection: Yes, it can be this difficult at first because the fear sometimes lets those things back in or convinces us they aren’t so bad after all. This is how ended up in the classroom this year. I have to stay committed and diligent at listening to my heart and paying attention to what makes me feel free and liberated vs. what makes me feel burdened and trapped. The soul loves the truth. And only when I honor what’s authentic and real to my soul, can I truly be liberated.
This past Friday, I called my school district. I asked if it was possible to find a 60% placement. I figured this would give me the opportunity to work on developing a new sense of purpose, but if they can’t find a middle ground, I am going to resign. It’s not fair for the students, or for me, to stay. I am scared shitless the way someone who is cautious to commit to love might be afraid to say “I love you,” afraid to leave the old version of themselves behind. I am also courageous because I deserve to feel alive and to rediscover the power and passion that comes from being rooted in my purpose, even if that means starting all over again.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Eleanor Roosevelt