Celebrating My Life
By NANCY PATRICK
I had a weird thought the other day about the many issues people face these days: human rights, unjust wars, dirty politics, dangerous politics, climate change, uncontrolled viruses, racial injustice, family violence, mass shootings, and on it goes. What a depressingly overwhelming list of concerns!
The list brings to my mind the Serenity Prayer that my interim pastor has focused on recently: “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I have many problems praying that prayer because I fail at each point.
Serenity has a habit of fleeing from me. Why can’t I change all the things that need changed? I look at the list in the first paragraph and desperately want to fix every bad thing in it. I do know I cannot accomplish that, so serenity escapes me. I obviously do not have the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot do, and sadly, I often lack the courage to change the things I actually could influence.
Where does that leave me? As a senior adult, I often think of the world I entered in 1950 and the world I will shortly leave. Many people my age believe the world in 1950 did not have the problems we have now. I know it’s tempting to think that, but truthfully, many of those issues did exist, though we didn’t really acknowledge them or understand them.
Since I recognize my limited ability to influence major global issues, I decided to think about my own life and its influences and accomplishments. Maybe my list can furnish fodder for those who celebrate my life at its end.
Above all other aspects of my life, I have valued my family. That family began with my parents and only sibling, my sister Peggy. I have written many articles about my family, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Perfect we were not!
In spite of some pretty harsh circumstances during my sister’s and my childhoods, we never doubted our parents’ love. I don’t think psychologists had invented the term “dysfunction” during my childhood, but it could have perfectly described my family.
Despite that, my nuclear family stayed the course. We never had estrangements or long-term disagreements. Consequently, my sister and I made sure our parents lived their lives and died according to their wishes. They never doubted our love nor we theirs.
Those family relationships formed the foundation for the family my husband and I created with our son Jason. Mike and I had seven years together before Jason joined us, so we built a firm foundation for our marriage as the basis for the remainder of our lives. Jason had parents who planned carefully for him.
The years of our family of three were the happiest of my life. Mike and I adored our son and doted on him. We soon learned that just as our own parents were not perfect, neither were we. I can say with confidence that in spite of our parental errors and shortcomings, our son never doubted our love for him.
We went through the typical familial scenarios: school, friends, peer problems, girlfriends, rebellion, and lots of angst. These ingredients resulted in a son who became a wonderful man, a devoted father, a beloved pastor of his church, an assistant professor of theology, and one of the kindest-hearted people I have ever known. It doesn’t get much better than that when evaluating one’s life.
Another treasured part of my life was my long career as an English teacher. I taught every age from sixth grade through college English in several Texas school districts and a university. I know that among the thousands of students I taught, about a dozen students found reason to dislike me. At least those were the students who made their feelings known to me.
On the other hand, I formed meaningful, lasting relationships with countless students. Because of some of my own family dysfunction, I had an affinity for adolescents who lived in the outskirts of the “in” crowd. Every year, one or two students seemed to attach themselves to me as an “auntie” or “nana.”
Many afternoons these students came to my classroom after the last bell—just to sit and talk. I never knew exactly why they thought of me as a confidant, but I think it was because they sensed no judgment from me. I began my teaching career in 1972 and still have contact with several of my students from four decades. I also have a collection of their notes that I treasure.
I have suffered from depression since my own adolescence. This kind of genetic depression has no external cause, so when I think of the serenity prayer’s line about accepting the things I cannot change, I remind myself that I cannot change that part of my life; however, I ask for wisdom to accept my depression as one does with other illnesses.
I have tried to use my life’s experiences as springboards for ministry to others. Ironically, my depression enabled my ministry to others. Although I have never been a professional minister, I have tried to minister through my Sunday school teaching, my school teaching, my friendships, my family relationships, and my community connections.
I hope that whoever gives my eulogy will touch on these points as highlights of a rich, full life that found peace through extensive and never-ending soul-searching. I never found “religion” an easy thing, but I finally found perfect peace in spirituality.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing