Recently, while out at a weekday lunch, some people whom I used to work with were on their way out while we were on our way in. It was the first time I had seen anyone from work in a long while, as the first full year of retirement culminates. 

It was a pleasant, surprise interaction and yet at the same time, curiously odd, because I never felt so close and yet so far away from whom I once was.

Here were people I had interacted with daily for many years; I felt a familiar warmness as we greeted one another and yet an odd sense of detachment and slight wistfulness as they left to return to their busy workday and I was left there behind in my new daily routine of often-nothingness. 

For more than 30 years my life was defined by my career. For 21 years, it was also defined by motherhood. Mixed in throughout, there were relationships, break-ups, marriages, moving, taking care of parents, emergencies and many milestones. It’s easily relatable because it’s the summation of life that includes common-shared experiences and finding meaning in what we aim to achieve.

I’m learning it is what happens after the achievements are done, when we and everyone else around us are growing older and the years rapidly fading, when we might take stock of our life and come to terms with how we define ourselves in the present.

October of 1984, I was charging full steam up the career path in my high-heeled pumps and power suits at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. I held a bright-eyed enthusiasm for getting ahead and for being a part of a vibrant, inspiring work environment. 

In direct contrast today, I can no longer tolerate high heels and more likely can be found in my running shoes on the treadmill or along the exercise path outside. I no longer have any zest for achieving career greatness, but rather I now seek to learn a more gentle kindness and understanding towards others and myself.

This first year, beyond the death of my mom, retirement and learning to cultivate a spirit of presence through the practice of meditation, has me feeling a bit lost. The words in the song “Lost in Time & Space” by Lord Huron resonate with me as I play it on repeat, “I don’t know who I am; I don’t know where I am.” I’m wondering who else feels this way as I imagine it can’t be just me.  

I look back to the female role models in my life, my mom and her mother, and often compare similarities to what they might have been experiencing at the age that I am now, which is mid-50s.

At this age, my mom still had daughters in high school and was busy living out vibrant years with my dad at our home in the Chicago suburbs. They had both lost their parents at much younger ages, so that wasn’t a factor in their life. I didn’t know my grandmother at this comparable age, but she struck me as always being content in whatever God blessed her with. That similarity rang true with my mom as well.

Neither of these women ever became famous or did anything remotely remarkable by the standards of those who seek to achieve greatness, and yet my mom and grandmother are held in memory as highly esteemed women of the Christian faith, who loved their families and their few closest friends unconditionally with a lifelong devotion that could truly be considered remarkable in this often fickle society. 

It is this goal that I hold fast to as I seek to redefine my days apart from the career path. 

Linda Kelley, a resident of Rantoul, writes a periodic column for the Rantoul Press.