I was hooked from the moment he mentioned he had been in Nicaragua during the revolution that overthrew the Somoza régime in 1979. As the Jesuit priest presiding at mass that Sunday evening at the end of July continued his homily, I focused on every word. Even now, more almost thirty years later, I remember the gist of his message.
When the Sandinistas began to govern after the revolution, Father said, the people felt some disillusionment. Righting the abuses of the preceding government would take longer than people had expected. Things hadn’t worked out exactly as they had imagined.
The same phenomenon happens in other areas of life, the presider continued. A dream job might seem perfect when we sign on, but it’s bound to play out differently than we anticipated. It takes a while to form relationships with colleagues, and we might not feel comfortable with some of the tasks we are asked to manage.
Marriage, too, he added, begins in bliss and expectations of living happily ever after. Inevitably, though, bumps in the road arise as two different people work at melding their tastes, their goals, their habits, and their views of the world into a cohesive family unit. This is normal, Father said. In these situations, patience is critical.
I thought about his message a lot in the ensuing days, weeks, and even years. I reflected on the transitions we experience when we move from one set of predictable life patterns to another. We move from high school to work life or further study; we finish post-secondary or graduate studies and enter the mainstream of society; we might marry, have children, or change careers; we may have to manage illness and, inevitably, we will have to say good-byes. All these life events involve destabilization and a new reality.
Having a baby was an awakening for me. Naive and inexperienced, I expected to be able to carry on with my life after my first child without a hiccup. It’s not that I hadn’t prepared—I had read books, done my homework, attended pre-natal classes. The problem was that none of the books or classes told me that, most days, just washing up, getting dressed, and combing my hair would be an accomplishment. Or that trying a new recipe for cheddar pear tart while nursing a two-week old baby really wasn’t such a smart idea. Once I got used to a different reality, my routine adapted, and a new normal established itself. I started to celebrate each small action. I established a moratorium on dinner parties, too. To get there, though, I needed to tap into my reservoir of patience.
I realized, then, that the challenge of transitions is that they juxtapose the reality of our new life with our expectations of what that life might look like. I learned from experience that preconceived notions can blind me to the joys of the present moment and to opportunities I could not have anticipated. To soak in the joys and be aware of the opportunities takes patience. Big changes like revolution, marriage, and children evolve; they don’t happen. I try to approach my retirement adventure as a fresh canvas. I aim to give myself some time to get used to painting with different colours and different brushes, and to allow my creations to surprise me.