Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?
I was excited as I reached into my coin purse. This sounded like a fun writing challenge. There was quite a bit of loose change in there. What year would I come up with? I mixed all the coins several times before I made the grab and pulled out a penny. Wow–1984.
Immediately, I thought of George Orwell’s famous science fiction novel, “1984”, that portrayed life in a futuristic totalitarian state. I had read the novel in my college days in the 60’s and, at that time, it was possible to believe that by 1984 conditions might be as depressing as Orwell imagined. Thankfully, by the time we made it to 1984 life for us in America was nothing like the world in Orwell’s novel.
Life in 1984, for me, personally, was also nothing like the world I might have imagined for myself when I was back in the 60’s. In 1984 I was married with 2 children, struggling to make a living in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Because my husband at the time had trouble finding steady work I had gone back to school in 1977 to obtain a teaching certificate. I had a BS in mathematics when I graduated in 1972, but no work experience except waitressing and house cleaning. I had never pictured myself as a parent and I certainly never pictured myself as a teacher. But when you find yourself a parent there are sacrifices that need to be made. In 1978 the sacrifice for me was to accept a job offer as a high school mathematics teacher and thus began my 14-year teaching career.
Looking at that date on the coin today I knew that 1984 was somewhere in those difficult years of teaching school and raising children. But I wasn’t sure exactly where in the timeline it was. When my kids were growing up we did not live close to my family. As a way of sharing our lives with them, I diligently photographed birthdays, holidays, vacations, etc., sending photos to my family and filing copies in my own photo albums. Those albums are now stored in boxes on the top shelf of a closet. This was a good opportunity to dig out the photos from 1984 and find out what we were doing then.
The memories flooded back as I leafed through the pages of the photo album. That was a busy summer for myself and our 2 kids. It was the year my mother-in-law and her husband bought a rundown farm in the backwoods of Arkansas. The kids and I started our summer vacation with a visit to Arkansas. Then it was on to Michigan to spend time with my parents on the farm where I had grown up. My kids were 7 and 8, which was a great age for appreciating all the activities organized by family that summer. A teaching career was something to be thankful for when it made vacations like that possible.
But summer vacation is a small part of the year and was always over too soon in those days. I kept hoping there would be an opportunity for me to make a living some other way, but then I’d find myself reluctantly signing the contract to teach for one more year. I didn’t know it in 1984, but I still had 8 more years of teaching ahead before I would finally find a new career.
I’m glad that in 1984 I didn’t know what lay ahead. Some people are fascinated with the idea of glimpsing the future, but I’ve never wanted to know what my future holds. When I look at the past I can see that the difficult things I went through brought good results in the end. But if I had seen those things ahead in my future I would have said “No way. I can’t do that.” I prefer to focus on what needs to get done in the present day. As Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 1984 had enough trouble, for sure, but it also had its good times. And it is always good to periodically look back at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.