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SOAPBOX: A premonition

On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show  turns over the the mic to listeners. For the spring 2022, writers tackled the theme LOST.

In February of 2020 I had a realization that now feels like a premonition.

It was late on a Tuesday afternoon, and several of my colleagues were jammed into my office at South Mountain Community College talking about our students, our colleagues, our projects, our plans and laughing. Laughing together as we did several times each week and had done for years. And that was when I had a flash — a jolt really. It came to me that we wouldn’t always have this. People would get other jobs; I would eventually retire; change as it always does would come to us. And in that moment, I felt grateful, and a little sad, a sort of anticipatory nostalgia.

Less than a month later all our offices and classrooms were empty, and we had settled in to conducting life from a grid of little boxes. Sometimes with faces in them, sometimes not.

I’ve worked at SMCC for 40 years, and before the pandemic, I went to the college almost every day. As I’ve gotten older, one of my biggest worries has been how I would separate from the college when it came time for me to retire. But here I was effectively separated! The worst blow came when my oldest friend at the college — he had been there two years longer than me — decided to retire in December of 2020. He was one of the first faculty members hired at the college, and we had both been part of building the college in the early 1980s. He had been my immediate supervisor and most trusted ally since 1991.

I was disoriented and untethered. Lost. Of course, I knew he deserved — had earned his retirement, but I’d never actually imagined a reality in which he wasn’t at the college. For me, he and the college were one and the same. And even though I wasn’t immediately following him, I knew his departure signaled the beginning of the end of my career at SMCC.

It’s been two years now since we emptied our offices and classrooms, and over a year since my colleague retired, and now I go to the college once a week. Or once every other week. And my dear coworkers who were crammed in my office in February of 2020? I see them and work with them regularly — sometimes in person, sometimes online. Occasionally we do find ourselves in the same office, and the laughter comes easily, an echo from another time.

But my home is now the center of my personal and my professional life and my work habits are completely transformed. I’ve taught myself how to structure my time, and I know I’m more productive than I was pre-pandemic. For the college, I manage the Storytelling Institute, and I teach online, and in hybrid online/in-person classrooms. I’ve enjoyed the process of rewriting and deepening the curricula of all my classes. And I’ve also written storytelling training for other organizations, I’ve begun working with colleagues in other colleges and universities, and I work promote storytelling wherever I can.

My husband and I have spent more time together in the past two years than we had in the previous 35. And our lives are the better for it. I still find it alarming, but I can imagine a life away from SMCC, and maybe I’m starting to create it.

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