Monday, March 15, 2010

lenten journal: the next chapter

I gave my notice to my chef who hired me for both the Duke and Durham restaurants. Though my exit will be somewhat gradual over the next five or six weeks, I am leaving my job as a professional chef to return to teaching, and specifically teaching English in a small private school made up of students who need a less than traditional environment to survive. Though I have been thinking and praying about getting back into teaching for some time, this opportunity caught me by surprise. A call about a week and a half ago to sub led to a job offer, which led to my choosing to make the move.

“The Lord bless you in your going out and your coming in,” wrote the psalmist. Days like today remind me he is describing one motion that is both things: I am leaving and arriving with the same steps; what is a beginning is also an ending. The last time I had a job as a teacher was in the spring of 2001. I stepped out of the classroom when we moved to Marshfield, thinking I would write for a year or so and go back to teaching. I ran headlong into a deep depression instead, found my way to the kitchen (that phrase actually took about a year and a half) and cooked my way back to daylight. Now it’s time to teach again.

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I learned what you do and what you are were pretty much the same thing. I can remember the night in the Charlestown Blockbuster Video, where I worked when we first moved to Boston, that I found myself desperately wanting to unlearn that lesson. I walked up to a woman who was looking for a movie and asked if I could be of assistance. She looked a little startled and then said, “Oh – no thanks. I usually don’t talk to the help in places like this.” Her comment created an existential crisis for me: I couldn’t be the guy who rented tapes; it had to be what I did. Period.

As valid as the lesson was for me to learn, I also know, regardless of what I might do for a living, I am both a teacher and a cook, and also a writer (though I must say writing has never paid much). It’s about more than a job. Both are deep inside me, and both have found their vocational expression at different times, and both are more than jobs to me. As I move from kitchen to classroom, I will keep cooking, just as when the motion was reversed some years ago I found ways to teach.

As a writer, I suppose I should have the best words to speak to my situation, yet I’m going to lean into a poem that has found me at several crossroads: Stanley Kunitz’ “The Layers”:

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
I find myself feeling grateful and humbled and hopeful and sad, as though all those emotions each ran their respective four way stop sign to come crashing into me.

I will borrow more words for my closing prayer from Dag Hammarskjöld:
For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes.
Amen.

Peace,
Milton

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Live and be very well!

Scott

Bill said...

Yes, my friend, you are a writer. Best wishes for your new venture.
Bill

Maureen from Minnesota said...

This is very exciting. As Piglet says (and we say here at our house), "It's hard to be brave when you're a Small Animal." I will look forward to your posts -- I hope you can find time!

Anonymous said...

Milton
I had always hoped to come to Durham to taste your food. Never the less you have and continue to feed me with your words. May the joy of God's mischief that has called yoy back to teaching continue to bless you.
Deep peace,
Ken

Anne said...

The deal is that you have to keep this blog going. After working with kids and words all day, you're going to want to get home and make an exquisite dinner for Ginger and whoever else is around, and blogging will be too much like work.
Please, please, don't forget that many of us have been sustained, nourished, fed, by your words for a long time....
God's richest blessings!
Anne

susan shelstad said...

sounds like the right thing ...

don't eat alone said...

Don't worry, Anne, I will keep writing. It sustains me as well.

Peace
Milton

Songbird said...

Blessings, Milton, as you move on to new possibilities.