I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day Reflections

I took this picture on our last full day in Beijing in June 2007. That was the last time I was in China, but I was fortunate to travel there six different times during my years working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder. This time, I was working there for a month doing a job for the Higher Education Press, checking the level of English translation for several different scientific journals. Smart Guy accompanied me. It was a wonderful month in many ways, but it was also very hard work. Every weekend we were taken by someone in the office to see the sights, which varied from the Great Wall to the Summer Palace. This last day, just the two of us went together to visit these gardens. It was a rainy day and if you enlarge the picture, you can see people in the distance with their umbrellas on the other side of the lake filled with lotus leaves.

I was able to travel a great deal during the latter part of my three decades at NCAR. When our administrator of many years, Maria, decided to retire, her position as the organizer for our boss Mickey's many conferences and workshops around the world fell to me. I was responsible for finding a venue for the meeting, making the arrangements to get the scientists and researchers to that place, and he knew that if it was a place that most people would otherwise not be able to visit, he could attract well-known and otherwise unattainable scientists to attend and provide their expertise.

It was also my job to take notes during the meeting so we could collaborate, he and I, on a report for the proceedings and get it onto the Web. These reports are all still available through his website now located at the University of Colorado. The meeting we held in Hanoi in 2006 is available here, just as an example of the work I did. I was especially proud of how this report turned out.

But now all that seems so far in the past, and I'm moving into new directions in my life. I no longer have any desire to spend my limited energy fulfilling another person's vision, as I did for Mickey during all those years. Even though I retired in 2008, Mickey talked me into going to Skopje, Macedonia for one last meeting in April 2009, and it was so much work that I realized I just can't continue doing it any more. I needed that one last push to realize it's time to move into another phase of life.

I want to find out what I might be able to develop within my own sphere of influence, and this blog has helped me find my way to another aspect in my life. I was so busy and preoccupied during my working years that I never had the time or inclination to even wonder about these things. Now, it's like I'm standing at another threshold and taking stock.

Yesterday while I was on my Saturday morning walk with the Fairhaven walking group, I met a woman who has just returned from 18 months in China. She was there learning Mandarin. Although I didn't find out much else about her, it was enough for us to make a connection and share our experience of the vast differences in the culture between the United States and China. It made me realize that even though I have little desire to return to that part of the world, I am permanently changed by those experiences and cherish what I have learned. The old adage about travel broadening one's outlook is definitely true.

But I realize that there must be a time and a place for travel, and another time to reflect and contemplate the here and now. I am fortunate in my many memories of places I've been and people I've known. As I begin this new month of May, I'm feeling pretty happy about the present moment and a poem of Emily Dickinson's comes to mind.
How much the present moment means
To those who've nothing more —
The Fop — the Carp — the Atheist —
Stake an entire store
Upon a Moment's shallow Rim
While their commuted Feet
The Torrents of Eternity
Do all but inundate —
I am always struck by Emily's ability to use words to their full advantage. Since she wrote this poem in the middle of the nineteenth century, some of the words are no longer used in quite the same way, but "fop" still means someone who is overly concerned with their looks; "carp" refers to someone who continually finds fault with others, and "atheist" is one who believes God does not exist. The essence of this poem hits me deep within my heart and reminds me to look beyond every day to the torrents of eternity.

I wish you and yours a peaceful and reflective May.

17 comments:

Norma Jean said...

Life seems to be a series of "new beginnings". The excitement is finding out what is going to be next. No matter how hard we tried, I don't think any of us would have imagined what was in store for us.

Life gives us things to endure and things to enjoy. We just need to figure out which ones they are when we are living through them.

Grandma Nina said...

You are such an accomplished and obviously very intelligent lady! You should be very proud of your past work and travels. I agree with you that a time comes when you need to sit back and reflect. You've earned and deserve the good life you have now. But what great memories you have to reflect on!

Linda Reeder said...

I agree with you taht travel broadens one's outlook. I would like to do more. Most of my travel had to wait until we were both retired, as we were busy raising children, sending the to college, and pouring ourselves into our teaching careers.
You are fortunate to have had a career that included travel, but then I suspect it had little to do with luck, and much to do with your skill.
As to a time to reflect, I guess that's just part of what I do each day. And while you may be taking more time to reflect now than you did before, you certainly aren't sitting still when you're doing it!

Mel said...

Such a lovely photo, quotation and a lovely post. You are a woman of many accomplishments! I agree that travel opens eyes and minds like nothing else. I'm glad you stepped out of the busy life into this one that is all yours, so you can reflect back on your many accomplishments and ponder what comes next. I'm glad you decided to start blogging, so that I could stumble your way. Your posts, your life and your perspective are an inspiration for me. Thanks, and Happy May!

Teresa Evangeline said...

I am glad to hear more of your life and experiences. What an interesting career you had. I've not done that sort of traveling and am always enamored of those who have and have great stories to share. Your thoughts on Emily's use of words is spot on. I really enjoyed this post, full of good stuff. Happy May!

gigihawaii said...

I hope the air in China was not as polluted as it is now. But just think of all of the wonderful memories you've created over the years. Now, you have more time for family. More, more, more!!!

Retired English Teacher said...

As always, I loved this post. It is great to look back on what we used to do and be proud. I've been doing a lot of that this week. I need to take a week to sit and journal and put the past and present into perspective so that I can fully walk into the future. Again, I learn from you, my mentor on moving forward.

Robert the Skeptic said...

The Atheist doesn't "believe" in a "not"... Atheists hold no belief that there IS a god - it is an important distinction.

Many believers claim that Atheism is itself a belief system. We like to counter that if collecting stamps is a "hobby", then is NOT collecting stamps a hobby as well?

The poem implies that the Atheist is missing out on something - we are, superstition. But most Atheists find a very uplifting, motivating and liberating feeling of being free to appreciate life and the natural world, completely and unfettered.

Red said...

There comes a time when you cannot do a job the way you want to. Then it's time to quit and move on. That's what you're doing and that reflection will go well. You are only just starting the reflection part of your life.
Enjoyed your post. Thanks.

#1Nana said...

One of the things I have enjoyed about this community of retired folks in cyberworld is learning about how others have adjusted to the changes in retirement. The wisdom and experiences of others is so helpful as I struggle to figure out my own place in the community of seniors.
I agree about the lesssons learned from travel. My experience living in Central America in the Peace Corps taught me a lot about Latin America, but much more about myself and my own culture.
Happy May Day!

Arkansas Patti said...

What an interesting life you have led. I envy your time in China. That is high on my bucket list but will probably take a winning lotto ticket to realize. Such a different, interesting culture.

Whitney Lee said...

I went to the report-good Lord, that's a lot of work! Add in that the report is only a small part of all you had to do for the trip and it's no wonder you reached a point where it was no longer exciting. The traveling must have been quite an experience, though. I remember in another post about those travels that your boss insisted that you all make your visits to these places without being secluded in Americanized hotel environments. You really did get a feel for these countries that many travelers do not.

I would someday like to travel again but not anytime soon. I grew up traveling and seem to have reached my quota for awhile. Maybe it's all the extra security and such, but I've had my fill of airplanes. My mother worked for a large airline, and I grew up traveling. It's easy to take it for granted when you fly free. I do, however, treasure the memories of the places I've been.

I want to thank you for the reintroduction to Emily Dickinson. I have been enjoying her lately in a way I didn't back in college. Interpretation is all about Perspective.

Paul C said...

How interesting to read about your travel opportunities amidst the challenges of your career. The Dickinson quote is interesting and touches on a theme that crosses my mind on occasion. How important is eternity in the equation of death? I am lukewarm to the idea. The daily life is my main focus and I, at this time, don't fret too much about the end, and perhaps I never will.

Fresh Garden said...

Absolutely wonderful!
Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the visit. :)

Star said...

You can still enjoy your travels D-Jan, from the comfort of your own chair without all the hassle of catching planes and planning for other people. Yesterday on Radio 4 BBC here in England, someone from the NCAR in Boulder was interviewed. He was a Joshua ... I didn't catch his last name. It was an interesting interview, all about the adverse weather condition the U.S. and other places are experiencing this year.

Elisabeth said...

Pleased to meet you DJ. I'm here via Kleinstemotte. What a wonderful tale you have to tell and how joyous to be reconnected to Emily Dickerson's poems. I look forward to reading more.

I'm not much of a literal traveller myself but I travel easily through the blogosphere.

Linda Myers said...

Well, I'd read before that you had travelled but I had no idea! I'm sure your character was influenced by all those non-Western places. How lucky that you carry that experience with you.