By Renee Bess
This past September 6 marked the beginning of my eighth year of retirement from the School District of Philadelphia. During these last seven years I’ve missed the camaraderie of some of my former colleagues and the seconds of magic I used to see when my students experienced their “aha” moments, but I do not regret having left the classroom.
I like to think I’ve used these seven years well. I’ve become a volunteer at a local hospital, continued attending water aerobics classes twice a week, visited all sorts of places of historical and cultural interest, served on the Board of Directors of the Golden Crown Literary Society, and written four novels. There are tons of activities I want to explore, more books I want to write, an Atlas full of places to which I want to travel, an untold number of people I want to meet and talk with, and so many facts, information, and skills I hope to learn.
Some folks label longings such as these a “bucket list.” I don’t like that phrase because it reminds me of the expression “kicking the bucket”. “Bucket list” is draped with the depressing shroud of finality. I prefer to tie my plans with multi-colored streamers labeled “the future” because those two words suggest optimism.
We can all attribute some parts of our world view and some aspects of our personalities to our parents. Hopefully, over time we learned to let go of any growth stunting lessons we absorbed from them in favor of developing the more positive characteristics they modeled. For example, I’m convinced my mother, who frequently tells me she’s “as nervous as a cat” showed me in utero how to react to stress. Every time she utters her feline simile, I visualize my two kitties, Zami and Randi, who regularly display trigger quick reactions with little or no provocation. My younger one, Randi, executes flawless back flips for which the most demanding International Olympics judge would award a perfect 10.
When my mom tells me she’s as nervous as Randi, I take deep breaths. For the sake of my blood pressure and emotional health, I try to react to life’s stressors differently than my mother, Zami, and Randi do. I try to be mindful of other behaviors they model; like their insatiable curiosity about nature, their relaxed attitude about taking midday naps in the sunniest spot available in the family room, and the happiness of baking cranberry muffins for friends. You can guess who does what. All of you cat lovers probably figure my two pets can do it all.
What did my father show me? I believe his very presence modeled being positive and always making one’s best effort in the face of societal obstacles. He lived his life exuding the kind of gritty determination it took for an African American male to become a successful military officer, executive, husband and father during the mid-twentieth century.
All of this brings me to my blog’s title, The Undelivered Speech. My fourth novel, THE BUTTERFLY MOMENTS, was short-listed for a 2011 Goldie. in the romance with intrigue category. On the evening of June 11th, two minutes after the third winner of that category was named, I realized the disappointment I felt tugging at my non-winning heart was due in large part to my not being able to thank my parents publically for all they had done to help me become a writer. I hadn’t had the opportunity to praise my mother for giving me either a book or a gift voucher from a bookstore every single Christmas of my life. I was bereft of the chance to talk about my father, and how faithfully he had read bedtime stories to me and my younger sister. I couldn’t describe the joy we felt whenever he put aside the little Golden Books and spontaneously composed his own tales for us. I think it is my Dad’s creative energy that jumps from my imagination onto my computer’s screen when my writing is really flowing. His muse is my legacy, I’m certain. And that certainty fills me with pride.
I remain grateful that my book was a finalist. I am thankful for this opportunity to deliver my speech.
Renée Bess is the author of LEAVE OF ABSENCE, BREAKING JAIE, RE:BUILDING SASHA, and THE BUTTERFLY MOMENTS. Her website is www.reneebess.com. To contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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