Last Friday, I did something I haven't done since I was a young Legal Services lawyer in Forrest City.
I walked to work. It felt like one of the few "full circle" experiences I have had thus far in my life.
It has been an interesting trip since I walked out of the Federal Building in 2011. As folks tried to tell me going into it, "retirement" would be nothing like I thought it would be. And they were right. Don't get me wrong. Everything is way cool. It's just not like I thought it would be.
I thought I would be back working full time in 6 months. That didn't happen. But then again, it's not like I tried real hard. Hell, I didn't try at all.
I didn't think I could stand working from home. It's actually pretty great. I didn't think I would do work for a bank. But I am.
And I really, really didn't think I would find myself standing in front of a room full of high school girls at Mount Saint Mary's Academy. But there I was, God help us all, proctoring chemistry tests and presiding over study hall.
This all came about long about January when I decided I needed to be busier than I was at that time. And because I often think I might be good at teaching I figured that substitute teaching would give me a taste of it to see if I liked it. Both Saint Mary's and Holy Souls are within walking distance. Catholic High is a mile away. So I got VIRTUS certified (sexual abuse training), let everybody know of my availability and that was that.
I confess that I was pretty nervous as I walked down 'I" Street along with all the kids. And I'm not the sort to get that way. But I had never been in charge of a bunch of girls before. My friend Ann was out in the yard as I walked past. She called out to me. She took notice of my jacket and tie.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. It was a fair question.
"I'm subbing at the Mount today," I replied.
She hugged me.
"You'll be great," she whispered. "the girls will love you."
"Yeah well....we'll see," I muttered as I turned and manfully pushed myself into the wave of backpacks and uniforms.
I reported for duty. They gave me my materials and a bottle of water. Oh, by the way, we are having a tornado drill first thing.
Perfect. I promised myself that I would not let this be a metaphor for the day.
They assigned a kid to lead me to the room. Good idea. I walked in. There they were. You're a real boy now Pinocchio.
I decided to lead with the truth. It was all I had.
The opening speech all day went something like this.
"Good Morning, ladies. Obviously, I am not Dr. Hendrickson. My name is Paul Bowen. I will be giving you the test this morning. While I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have, you are pretty much on your own. I am a lawyer. I don't know the first thing about chemistry. Good luck."
All the classes were equally amused by my confession that I was a lawyer. Under other circumstances I might have explored this. But there was work to do.
I passed out the tests and sat down in the teacher's chair with my iPad. It occurred to me that it had been 34 years since I sat in a classroom where folks were taking a test. That was when I was at Tulane. That was in a previous life. And here I was now at Mount Saint Mary's. Here I was now watching girls take a chemistry test. Another "full circle" experience. Two in one day. Not bad.
While my room was quiet, there were sounds of life elsewhere all throughout the building. I spend a lot of time down the road at Catholic High. It gets pretty noisy over there. But there are also stretches of silence. There was no time during the day last Friday where I wasn't cognizant of voices. Always voices somewhere.
I thought to myself,"This is pretty cool. I can do this."
Besides, hanging around with these kids sure beats practicing law.
About an hour into it, the iPad buzzed. It was an email from downstairs.
"Can you come back Tuesday morning at 8?"
"Yes I can."
Yeah it really kinda is.
As I walked home I sent Ann a text. I told her that I really enjoyed my day.
"You were raised to do this," she wrote back. " You were raised to be a teacher."
It occurred to me, off the top of my head, that this was the nicest thing anybody had said to me in a long time. A very long time.
"Besides, Steve and I look forward to a lot of great stories out of this adventure."
Me too, actually.
I used to walk to work when I was a young lawyer in the Delta. I hope it's a pretty day next Tuesday.
It will feel good to walk to work for another day up on the hill. Maybe I will decide that teaching is not for me. Maybe I will go back to the dark side and practice law again while I still halfway remember how to do it.
But for now, the "full circle" aspect of this is pretty amazing to me. And I am grateful for the experience. And, like my friend Ann, I look forward to the stories that are sure to come.