June was a month where a lot of my long-held plans finally came to fruition, and I was lucky to share this experience with a few stories about characters leaping beyond their comfort zones to achieve remarkable feats. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Haruki Marukami’s Kafka on the Shore accompanied me on a major shift in my professional life and a transcontinental journey with my boyfriend and best friends.
I’ve been alluding to this major change in my life for a few weeks now, but this month I finally told my employer that I’m leaving my current position to return to the classroom. It was an unexpected change, and the result of lots of reflection–and panicked chats about my life’s purpose with my friends and family–but it’s one I’m very excited about. I’ve enjoyed my current job, working at a nonprofit that supports rural women’s health, and I’ve learned quite a bit, but even though teaching was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I’ve realized how much I miss working with students.
I was reading Bel Canto as I prepared to give my notice, a story where the characters were surprised to find happiness whilst in a hostage situation. The extreme conditions they found themselves in pushed them to discover their true selves in the unanticipated tranquility and isolation of being trapped in a mansion by terrorists.
After emerging from my role as a teacher in a low-income school last May, I was excited to take on a job I felt passionately about, but I was also excited to step into a role that did not require 110% of me at all times. Life is crazy, and teaching can be all-consuming, so even though I was still working and plugging away at becoming a functioning adult, my new life outside of the classroom felt peaceful and more balanced–which is how many of the hostages, who led complicated lives in the outside world–were surprised to feel. Having a job that more or less shut off at 4:30 gave me the clarity to invest in my relationship, read more (and–blog more!), and to think about what I really want from life. The fact that this has ironically led me to returning to the classroom (hey–some people like a little chaos!) is certainly funny, however.
In mid-June, I embarked on the Europe trip I’ve been planning for months with All the Light We Cannot See, in tow. I had hoped I was bringing a long enough book to last me the full twelve days; however, I tore through this book in about a week. Marie-Laure and Werner’s journeys beyond their comfort zones into a WWII world they don’t understand resonates with me on many levels–one of many reasons I absolutely adored this book. Of course, returning to teaching is an unexpected change for me. I had a really hard time my first year and a half of teaching, and I was pretty confident that leaving the classroom was a permanent and correct decision for me. And even though I’m excited about this new job and I believe the school’s mission is aligned to what I believe, a small part of me can’t help but wonder if I’m making the right choice. I had misjudged my career options before–who’s to say I’m not doing it again? While our characters in All the Light We Cannot See certainly experienced more high-stakes apprehension (Nazis tend to escalate any situation), it was comforting to have a few others on this muddled journey of life.
Lastly, I finished the month with Kafka on the Shore (and by binge-watching Orange is the New Black, which admittedly slowed down my reading just a little bit). It was a strange book to accompany me on a strange portion of my life. Kafka and Mr. Nakata’s quests into the dark, violent, intangible realm of the in-between of life and not-life admittedly confused and sometimes shocked me. I’m not sure I understood each leg of their odysseys–the metaphorical incest, for example–but at the same time, I often feel like I don’t understand many portions of my own path right now. As I mentioned before, I’m excited about the transitions I’m making, but I’m not positive they’re the right choices; I’m just trying to trust intuition and, like Kafka, believe that I’ll end up where I belong.
Overall, June means I’m halfway through the year, and it seems like an appropriate time to be at a major turning point in my life–and even more appropriate to have these complex, resonant books along with me.