Change Over Time

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By Jody Lee Collins | Twitter: @jodyo70

When I was 36 years old, one of my daughter’s childhood friends asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. True story. The two of them were casually seated in the back of our covered cab pickup truck (there were no seat belt requirements back in the day) and she hollered the question from the backseat.

Of course, it got me thinking. What did I want to be when I grew up? I’d been working as a classroom aide in my children’s school at the time and enjoyed it very much. Many of the teachers I interacted with commented from time to time that I had a real knack for teaching, so I went back to school to get my credential in Elementary Education.

I was 40 years old when I finished my degree. Thanks to a glitch in scheduling and computer records (always blame the computer), I discovered after I walked through graduation that May that I was 3 credits short of actually having my Liberal Studies certificate. The only solution was to scramble to find a class during the summer that would give me the last 3 units I needed. Unfortunately, they had to be in science. Thankfully, a favorite professor of mine was leading a High Sierra workshop trip that lasted a week and would provide the remaining credits I needed.

I signed up and was on my way. The adventure was planned for the regions I loved in Yosemite National Park an hour from our home. However, our ‘workshop’ would begin at 8,000 feet and take us up to over 12,000 feet above the hardscrabble, granite laden tree line. I trained for weeks prior to the trip, throwing a backpack on and traipsing out the door to walk our neighborhood in the early morning quiet. I fancied myself an explorer of sorts, tramping up and down the streets with a determined stride. I was getting in shape, or so I thought, for the journey before me.

When we set off weeks later for our High Sierra trip I made a distressing discovery: There is a stark difference between walking on flat asphalt carrying a 15-pound backpack and actually plowing ones’ way ahead on a trail at 8,000 plus feet on a steep incline, with 30 actual pounds of gear in tow.

It didn’t help that I was the oldest person on the expedition, and one of only three females. I struggled to meet the stride of those with whom I was hiking and longed to have the sympathy and companionship of the other two gals climbing with me. They would have none of it. I ended up being escorted on the trip by two young men, one a Marine just returned from the Desert Storm campaign, the other a grizzly Adams look alike who leaped over rocks like a mountain goat. The young men were kind and patient, making sure we stopped for water and food when needed. We trailed behind the rest of the group across meadows and along streams, the group ahead always within earshot but often out of sight.

One day in particular stands out in my mind–we were now above the tree line, high above the Yosemite valley floor, trying to outrun a pending storm. The worn and open spaces of vast granite outcropping was no place to be, especially since lightning was accompanying the striking gray clouds in the distance.

We came to a chasm between two eroded formations–a space of maybe 12 inches. It might as well have been 12 feet; we had to go across it. Marine guy went over first and held his hand out to me. Grizzly Adams guy was behind me, encouraging me on. “On the count of three, you jump, Jody.” “One, two, three … Jump!” I did it.

The next thing I recall was a bald eagle curving his way overhead and screeching his greeting across the sky. I felt like I could have reached up and touched him.

I nearly didn’t survive that trip; turns out you need to consume twice as much food and water as normal when you’re hiking at 12,000 feet. I was overcome with altitude sickness and almost fainted. Our wise professor, a Boy Scout leader and a saint named Doc Martin (really; before the shoes), rapidly came to the rescue and laid me out on the ground to recover. After a considerable amount of time and attention, and lots of water, I was again on my way, this time with my male guides carrying my gear the entire rest of the time.

Hiking on that trip was the most dangerous, exciting and memorable thing I have ever embarked on, a feat I am all the more proud of because of my age. Forty years old seemed like a downhill marker at the time, but looking back it was really the beginning for me, the start of discovering what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I ended up teaching in private and public schools at the elementary level for over 20 years. I began my career in middle school which I confess nearly killed me, but it provided a training ground for things like learning to teach writing, a workshop process I love to this day. Those workshop practices were honed in first and second grade classes–heavenly assignments indeed–unlocking the joy of words and story for many of my young students. There are files I’ve saved of some of their work which brings me joy to this day.

My decision to finally retire from teaching two years ago was prompted by owning up to what I’d actually never confessed out loud–what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a writer.
I’d been dabbling with pen(cil) and paper from a young age, penning stories in grammar school, serving stints at school newspapers, writing long letters to friends over the years. While I was working in education I had several essays published in our local paper, one of which paid a whole $75. Each year since then I’ve refined and focused my work, learning about voice, paying attention to craft, writing scads of bad poetry and lukewarm essays.

We are always growing up, I suppose, and discovering what we want to be. I started writing online six years ago and my current blog is part of that journey. Carving small space on the internet, I’m practicing again, uncovering all that God has put inside me, revealing his ways through my work. The older I get the more I see God’s hand in recovering the gift that was hidden all those years ago.

I’m 65 now. Twenty-five years of teaching has provided experiences and friendships that I treasure greatly along with a training and proving ground for God to refine me. I’ve been tumbled and worn and there are some wide cracks in between, but they’re just large enough for leaping over.

Becoming who God intended us to be is a lifelong series of small steps, but every now and then, there’s a wild leap to the other side.

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About Jody

I am currently in that sweet spot of life including retirement from teaching and spending time with my grandchildren. My husband and I have called the Seattle area home for 25 years where I enjoy gardening, reading & writing. I released my self-published book, “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas” last October and have poetry slated for publication this summer and Fall in iolamagazine and The St. Katherine Review. I’ve been penning words since Smith-Corona typewriters graced the desks of my middle school. I am delighted to be here.
You can find more of my work at www.jodyleecollins.com and on Twitter and Instagram.

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