10 November 2008

To Tomorrow, However Long it Lasts

I am leaving puberty, perhaps even adolescence--and entering the last quarter, or third, of my life?

I still feel as if, in some way, my life is just beginning. Maybe that's why I've enjoyed being with my students, even the ones who have misbehaved or didn't do their assignments, so much this semester. I especially love the freshman class I teach at ten o'clock on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and the all-female business writing class I teach on Thurdsay nights. The funny thing is that even though the average age of the students in the Thursday night class is probably double that of the morning class, and the morning class is composition and the other is a junior/senior level business writing course, those two classes are more similar than any of the other three I'm teaching this semseter. In fact, I'd even say they're more similar than just about any two other courses I've ever taught.

The Thursday night class gives me a similar feeling to what I experienced with a night course I taught for Long Island University in the Fall of 1992, my second year of teaching. That class, like this semester's Thursday night class, consisted entirely of female students, the youngest of whom was about 33 or so, if I remember correctly. Another similarity is that in both classes, none of the women are white. Most of the students in that class of sixteen years ago were working full-time, as all of the students in my current night class are. The ones who weren't working in that long-ago class were on some program or another, and had gotten out of abusive relationships or other bad situations.

In those classes, as in the freshman class, I am watching--no, doing whatever I can to help--people who are starting out or starting over. Over the past few years, I've identified closely with such people, as I do with immigrants and other "outsiders" who are trying to stake their place in this world. So nobody seems to notice --or, if anyone does, I can make a joke of the fact--that I'm the only white, native-born person in the room. And, of course, that is not the only way in which I'm a "minority."

But I digress (again!). It's odd to think that at 30, 35 or 40--or 50!--those women and I are doing what the 18-year-olds in my freshman class are doing. Sometimes I find it exhiliarating: After all, who wouldn't like a second chance? On the other hand, I feel a little sad sometimes because I have less time to do the things I want and need to do than the younger students will have. I mean, if I have, say, 25 more years to live, will I be able to publish the book I've been writing, a few more and other works? To continue my education? To see all the places I want to see but haven't? Or, most important, to develop into the kind of woman I want to become?

I mean, if I am just coming out of puberty, or adolescence, that puts me on the same level of development, more or less, as the freshmen I'm teaching. Another quarter-century would make me like someone in her early or mid 40's. Except that I'll be an old, and possibly ready-to-die, woman.

Then again, I might live longer than that. As long as I can keep my faculties, I wouldn't mind. Though, I must say, I wouldn't mind aging like Lauren Bacall, Jeanne Moreau, Sophia Loren, Lena Horne or Cloris Leachmann. Or like Ruth Gordon, the way she looked in Harold and Maude.

Somehow I suspect they all started, or started over, in some way or another when they were in middle age or even later in their lives. One thing I know is that it is better to start over than to continue with habits that are no longer working, or may never have worked. Now I can understand why people go back to school in their 70's or 80's to complete degrees and diplomas, the pursuit of which they may have abandoned or never started in the first place in their youth. I mean, you don't know how many more years you have, right? So you may as well work toward whatever dreams you have.

Now you know why I'm having the operation, and why people even older than I am have undergone it. And I can understand the patient Dr. Bowers mentioned to me: She'd had her gender reassignment at age 62 and returned for a clitoriplasty at age 82.

I guess you just never know when you're going to start or start over, or have the opportunity to do either. So, I propose a toast to today and tomorrow, however long they may last.