Stepping Stone 

  
Henry David Thoreau said, “All misfortune is but a stepping stone to fortune.” It has been a while since I’ve written about my love of the transcendentalists, but I love the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. One of the things I will definitely do once I move to Vermont is to take a trip down to Concord, Massachusetts, to visit Walden Pond. The transcendentalists had a way of thinking that too many people in America forget, and I personally think “Self-Reliance” by Emerson is one of the most important essays ever written. If you’ve never studies it or read it, I urge you to go back and read this post I wrote several years ago.

With that being said, I want to go back to Thoreau’s quote, “All misfortune is but a stepping stone to fortune.” I think this is especially true in my life right now. I was completely devastated when I lost my job back in May, but like the Phoenix, I have risen from the ashes. I told one of my friends that I was going to dinner with some of the people I used to work with from the school. People I wanted to be able to say goodbye to and do miss. That friend told me yesterday: 

You have done everything you could possibly do to pull yourself out of the hole you were in last spring. I’m sure there will be some at the dinner who were envious of what you have achieved. Surely you weren’t the only one there who would like to be working somewhere else, but without the impetus of getting fired, it is so difficult to light a fire under one’s butt as you can testify to! You are the ultimate success story: a great new career, colleagues who already value working with you, a super cute place to live, a liberal state in which to now call home, and finally…able to be your true self. Remember early on when I told you looking for a job is one of the hardest things you will ever do? You are now living proof of that. But oh, the feeling of accomplishment when it is over. I hope you never go through it again. But I am so, so proud of you for having done it….You were judged, Joe, and not found wanting. That has to feel spectacular!!! 

It really does feel spectacular. I know I would have never changed careers, and I would have never even looked for this job, if I had not had the “misfortune” of being fired. While I was horrified that it happened, so embarrassed when it happened, and fell into a deep depression, I refused to give up, and I did turn something that I thought at the time was a great misfortune into something very fortunate. Most of my friends that I met last night for dinner are older than me. They have either retired or close to retirement. There were only two who were younger than me. Of those two, one is only a few years younger; the other was a student of mine (her mom is a good friend of mine).   

The student had been a very troubled teen. Her parents didn’t know what to do with her, but refused to give up, but they were at a loss of what to do. While most people treated her as an outcast, I treated her like the star student I knew she was. I encouraged her writing and poetry. Of all my students, from middle school to college, she was the most talented writer. In fact, she’s one of the most talented writers I’ve ever read. I wish she would do more with it, but after about a year of working with her, her mother came to me and said, “Thank you. My daughter thinks the world of you, and she has changed so much since you have been encouraging her.” It was moment like that, which had made me want to be a teacher. The problem was that most of my students weren’t like her. They were spoiled brats who had a sense of entitlement. While I wish here had been more like this student, and there were a few, I know that teaching was just slowly killing me because most students didn’t care about learning. Apathy is one of the greatest dangers to this country, which is why I admire the transcendentalists. 

So when I lost my teaching job, I reevaluated my priorities. Are their other more indirect ways to teach? The answer is yes. Working in a museum means that you are creating a teaching tool for those who want to learn. What a great feeling that is! People actually are interested in what you are doing. I also get a chance at a new life. Because of that, many of the people at dinner last night were envious. How many times do you actually get to start over? 

Basically, this move is a reboot of my life. It’s a fresh start. I am getting a new place to live in a new location. I am getting new furniture and taking with me as little as possible. (For now, my cats will stay here with my aunt, who will take great care of them.) I will still have the same clothes (though I’ll get some new winter clothing) and a few small appliances, but everything else I will be starting from scratch. For the first time, I feel like I have a real grown up job. Not to diminish school teachers, but it had always been meant to be a temporary job for me until I found a college teaching job. So with this new jobs, I’m not just in a temporary holding pattern. This is going to be my career, and I am happy. 

Not many of us get a second chance, and I will thank God for the rest of my life for this one. I took a misfortune in life and used it as a stepping stone to fortune. I’ve got a new start and I don’t want to screw this one up. I want to do my best, and I will do my best. This is a chance of a lifetime.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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