I was an art teacher. I lived for it, with a passion only surpassed by that for my adored husband.
I was an art teacher 18 hours a day. I had taken after my beloved step-father, himself an art teacher. The profession was my whole life. Making rubrics, school art examples, and lesson plans, keeping records, taking courses--I neglected my own art-making.
He wasn't my "real" dad, but Cal was my dad, the best father, role model, and mentor a girl could ask for. He was a talented and exuberant man with a great capacity for finding the joy in life.
His buoyancy of spirit was particularly amazing because nearly every motion each day of his life required enormous effort. As a toddler he'd contracted that vile disease, polio. (It's poignant that my biological father died of polio when I, too, was a tot.)
To move about, Cal had to crawl on the ground until fitted with a leg brace at the age of thirteen. Then his gait was a rolling, lurching one, but he could walk! The young Cal sketched constantly with chalky rocks he found, and he naturally grew up to become an art teacher. His art is witness to a life deeply rooted in the soil of the plains, reminding me of family, tradition, and the beauty in my part of the prairie. It's about what’s important in this world.
In his later years, my father was wheelchair-bound, but he continued to create beauty all his days. He met ever-increasing physical challenges with dignity and grace. Like my dad, I wanted to seek out the joyfulness of life.
Cal was not only a popular teacher but also prolific in other artistic areas. I wanted to be like him, but striving to be the best teacher I could be took all my time. But my teaching career came to a crashing halt.
I strained forcefully while lifting a very heavy box of school art supplies, and I ruptured the small, thin membranes in my one, "good" ear. The nearest hospital with a doctor skilled in repairing such an injury was many hours away. To add to the delay, the surgeon couldn't squeeze me in for five days.
When I finally saw the doctor, I begged him to fix me. “I have to be able to hear my students,” I said shakily. "This was my only hearing ear!" As a child, I’d lost all hearing in the other ear because of an infection, but I’d functioned very well all my life without it. Until then.
There was only so much the doctor could do at that point. It soon became evident that my deafness would be profound. After spending a school year with a teaching aide, I was loath to give up my profession, but reluctantly I left teaching without having reached retirement age.
Then the silver lining began to shine.
Resilience is a trait which must be cultivated. If we can bounce back from adversity and make the best of our difficulties, we've gained a measure of control. With our spending habits, my income had been crucial to our budget, but both my husband and I had contributed to retirement plans. In addition, we had begun savings accounts, although we did pay off our mortgage first.
Art and education are vital, central parts of me. In the decade-plus of my deafness, I have seen several of my art books published. I joined an art gallery and was gratified that people liked my work enough to buy it. I consulted a financial advisor and opened a few new retirement accounts.
I'm not as obsessed or single-minded as I once was. I've traveled to foreign countries not as a handicapped person, but as just another voyager, enjoying the journey. I've taken classes. I've even gone back to teaching, in a way. I blog tutorials and I am lucky enough to facilitate art workshops.
Please don't brand me as disabled. Yes, I have a few limitations, but don't we all? We are all of us at risk of some setback or another. Life is delicate, yet the human spirit can transcend life's mischance. What’s in our hearts and our thoughts is far more powerful than any calamity.
We have the power within to ring our bells in the warmth and brightness of the sun. Do you hear, as I do, the chimes pealing? The sweet siren song? That’s life calling.