17: A Mid-Life Challenge

17: A Mid-Life Challenge

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

A Mid-Life Challenge

To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.

~Eva Young

I stood in the middle of the vast administration hall, confused and bewildered. I didn’t belong. My navy blue skirt and neat floral blouse told of a different generation. Standing hesitantly in middle-aged shoes, I surveyed the youngsters in jeans and T-shirts. They laughed and shouted greetings across the room. They belonged.

This was a stupid decision made in desperation. I turned to leave when through the cacophony I heard my name, “Ann, Ann.” I searched through the myriad strangers to see a middle-aged woman waving and calling me. I looked enquiringly as she pushed her way through the crowds, dragging a friend along with her.

“Don’t you remember me? We were at school together.” Her eyes glowed with fun and recognition.

“That must have been nearly twenty-five years ago,” I exclaimed. “How did you recognise me?” I waited wide-eyed and bewildered.

“You sang. Everyone knew you. Do you still sing?” She was right. I had sung my way through school — in concerts, the choir, shows and the cathedral. But in the last twenty years I’d settled into a housewifely routine and forgotten those uplifting schoolgirl events that had made my spirit soar.

“Anyway, I’m June and this is my friend Glen. Have you come to register?” She grabbed my arm. “Follow us. We can all register together. The three witches!” She laughed with the sheer enjoyment of the moment.

I was caught up in the excitement, and before I could turn and run I had signed and paid my registration fees. The three of us stood there giggling at our audacity. We had enrolled for studying towards a degree at university.

I hurried home, up the stairs and into my flat. I stood staring out the window across the bay. What a stupid thing to do, throwing away all that money. I had never shown signs of intellectual excellence at school and all I’d managed in the last twenty years or so was to cook and clean while I raised five children. But the mundane routine had dulled my zest for life. Surely there was more than endless cleaning up after others. This idea took root until I became ill with yearning for I knew not what.

I had left my husband, put my younger children in boarding school and rented out our family home. Why? For a small internal voice that nagged persistently, “There is more to life than domesticity. What’s happened to the songs? There’s a world to explore. Stop crying and feeling sorry for yourself. Do something.” I felt I had reached the point of no return, but was university the answer?

I mulled over this conundrum for a few days, and then one evening the phone rang. “Ann, June here. I’ll meet you tomorrow outside the main lecture hall just before 8 a.m. I need your support for our first lecture. Got to run. See you there.” I barely had time to grunt a reply when she rang off. She sounded excited and I caught the feeling. A tingling sensation seeped through my body. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt such a nervous thrill. Maybe I’d give it a try. One English Literature lecture wouldn’t be too embarrassing. I could at least read!

The following morning, I dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and set off to meet my friends who were watching out for me. We headed for the front row of the lecture hall. The hall soon filled with chattering students until the lecturer entered. Silence. The atmosphere hummed with anticipation.

Dr. Smails greeted us, picked up a book and read aloud the poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. I was inspired as we debated the meaning of the poem. It could have been written for me. I sat entranced, all my senses on full alert. This was it. I had found something that inspired me. Something that required a new approach, a challenge for my rusty brain cells. Maybe I hadn’t wasted my money.

I arranged with my generous and understanding boss to work shifts and flextime so that I could attend lectures. I sat with my friends in the front row listening to an analysis of either literary works or the human psyche (we had also registered for Psychology). My brain did gymnastics as it strained to understand and absorb concepts and revolutionary ideas.

The year passed and the magic happened as I perused reference books, read great literary works and studied the actions and reactions of the human psyche. At the end of the year we wrote exams, and all three of us passed with flying colours. I was the happiest I had been for a long time, but what to do with it?

I had no sooner asked the question when the headmaster of a school in the poorer part of town phoned. “I’m looking for someone to teach English. Our teacher is on maternity leave next year and we need someone to replace her urgently. Would you be prepared to fill in?”

“But I only have English I, and I have never taught,” I protested in fear of taking on such a task.

“Well,” he responded, “you’ll be one year ahead of the scholars. Please, help me out?”

I accepted the challenge, plunged into the deep end and loved it. The children were keen learners and I was used to being surrounded by teenagers. My salary increased and I had time to study.

Slowly, step by step, I passed more university subjects until I was eventually capped with an English Honours degree. That Honours degree led to me procuring a lecturing post at the local university. With this new confidence, I had started singing again; I joined a choir and sang in shows. Life was a great adventure again.

~Ann Hoffman

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