(Praha, České republiky) – 24th of December 2013 (Christmas Eve) – Fast paced city…trams full…tourists from every part of the globe wandering around taking pictures of stuff…It’s Christmas Eve in Prague. After a day hiking to St. Vitus’ Cathedral next to Prague castle (I was there to see Wenceslaus’ head which unfortunately was put away someplace) and then through old town to Wenceslas’ square to see where the modern country began I find my self in a reflective mood. I was bummed not to see Wenceslas’ head and to sing “Good King Wenceslas” to it, but such is life. He probably knows the tune being a saint and good and all.
Speaking of saints and good…I am out with people rather than just being by myself. Yes I don’t know them, but I know them, if that makes any sense at all. I heard Americans chatting it up in front of a wall covered in colorful multi lingual graffiti. I didn’t engage them, just stopped to take a snap of the street art work and moved on. It was nice to hear the accent though.
It’s kind of funny being in the capitol of an Eastern European country alone but not really alone. This place is teaming with life and laughter and music everywhere I turn. Even though it isn’t the same thing for someone who is a world away from family, it’s a damn sight better than holding up in a Walter White cabin someplace.
I know that while I am writing this, families all over this city and this country are gathered around the Christmas Eve dinner tables eating potato salad and maybe a carp or trout or salmon. The rituals that follow the meal are sweet as well as old. Google “Czech Christmas traditions” and see what you come up with.
I guess the hardest part about being so far away for this family celebration is just that, family. Sometimes I ask myself why am I putting myself (and them) through this? I’m not young anymore so why do it? I think because I am still able to. Without the blessing from my life partner and best friend, my wife, I never would have entertained the idea to move to another country, especially a country whose language is so difficult.
For years I had thought of teaching in another country. So that is nothing new. I never thought it would happen. That is new. When I retired from 40 years teaching high school sophomores, I was left with little to do that really interested me. Yes, I did make a series of educational videos on the topic of the spirituality of Ignatius Loyola. And yes, I did travel the U.S. meeting and filming so many interesting people from coast to coast. But when it was over, it was over. I decided that I would attempt to obtain the CELTA certificate (Cambridge cert) so I could teach English worldwide. I did it.
One would say “You put in your time teaching, why continue?” I guess the simple answer is that I like it and I am still able to do it. Which brings up my retirement from high school…well it was time to retire from that type of venue and work. The faces changed over the years but the same adolescent problems and dramas always came up. It became predicable. I don’t fault them. Kids are kids are kids. I guess after 40 years I sort of got tired of it. Not burnt out, just tired. So, why not try teaching adults? Why not adults in a different country. Hell, throw in pre-adolescents while were at it. It will be cool.
So while teaching adults and a few kids at a language school in Menlo Park, CA and sending out resume after resume to exotic places like Iraq and Afghanistan along with France and Spain, I received an offer to teach in the Czech Republic. So here I am on Christmas Eve 2013 thinking about the journey (and blessings) that brought me here. Yes I miss home and yes I miss my family and my best friend, but with technology I can video chat and email up the whazzoo and be up to date on all the goings on back home. It’s not quite the same thing as being there, but it’s a darn sight better than waiting for the mail.
So tonight in this wonderful capitol city I am thankful for my family who care and miss me and I am thankful for my new friends both colleagues and students in Vsetín who make living and working there enjoyable, enlightening and life-affirming. I did make a good choice, painful as it is sometimes.
So, no, I’m really not alone and yes, I am certifiably crazy because I didn’t follow the script and playbook for retirement. Things change as they always do. The 49ers are moving to Santa Clara and Candlestick Park has seen it’s last regular season football game and will be torn down to make way for a 7-11 or something. (Did I ever tell you about going to the 7th game of the ’62 World Series against the Yankees at the ‘Stick? Ok, well maybe later, but only if you are good…) So change happens, sometimes planned and sometimes not. If I had any wishes one would be that I would want to be a little younger so I could keep up with my young learner classes. I am too old to sing, color or dance, but I do it and it is still fun and I look forward each week to those classes. Maybe some would be kinda sad to witness these educational shenanigans if one visited my YL classes, but I also know there would be laughter mixed in as well. Bring it on!
This Christmas, then, I say “thanks” for the many blessings I have received and continue to receive. And I wish all of you the best blessings of this Christmas season and lean forward to a terrific 2014.
and so it goes…