“I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?”
Are you nobody, too?”
Having made the choice in the early 1990s to retire from university teaching, I looked forward to the freedom to pursue all the new directions that were beckoning to me. My burgeoning interest in spiritual practice was very attractive; my interest in alternative healing practices was just beginning; and I had a new and exciting partner for all the coming adventures. I cleared out the residue of my previous life and moved in with my new wife and partner, Elyn, in a tiny student apartment on the campus of Iliff School of Theology at Denver University where Elyn was a student.
Suddenly it seemed that I had lost my identity. Elyn’s fellow students were friendly enough, but I was accustomed to being treated as “Dr. White, Distinguished Professor” and that wasn’t who I was any more. I experienced an emptiness that I hadn’t anticipated. I didn’t want to be “Dr. White” any more, but that raised the question of who I was going to be in this new life.
Elyn was busy in her student life at Iliff School of Theology. She was a full-time student studying to be a Unitarian minister. Her natural gregarious nature made her a popular and active student in the Iliff family. She had a full life there and I had a lot of time on my hands. I tried reading and began to do some writing (early drafts of some of these pieces were written at that time). I had some ongoing work associated with my textbooks, but I also had a lot time on my hands. In leaving Ames, Iowa, I had not only left behind my university colleagues and the status of my position but also a circle of close friends with whom I had spent considerable time. I was experiencing a crisis that I had not anticipated—the proverbial “identity crisis.”
This crisis lasted for several years. I got used to not being deferred to (“Yes sir, Dr. White”), and not having a hardworking staff at my disposal, but there was a hole in my psyche that I couldn’t seem to fill. If any of my readers are contemplating retirement from an active career, I give you fair warning to expect a crisis of identity and a period of adjustment. I found ways to fill my time, but there was an underlying depression that I couldn’t seem to shake. I wish I could give you a formula for relieving that depression, but I can only say that it gradually cleared and I began to explore who I really was when the position and status were gone. I can say that ongoing work on projects was an important part of how I got through that time, and I soon found interesting spiritual paths to pursue that opened new vistas for exploration. I found people that I wanted to spend time with. We spent a year living in Spain and walked the Camino de Santiago. I got used to the feeling of being “nobody” important. When people asked me “what do you do?” I got over the feelings of guilt at not having a pat answer. I began to say “I am living my life,” or “I’m having fun.” I no longer felt the need to trot out a list of my past achievements to justify my occupying space on this planet.
Gradually, over a period of years, I have come to see that my task for this part of my life is the challenge of becoming who I really am and of exploring who I want to be in the final stages of this journey. More and more I am trying to become transparent to myself and to others. After a lifetime of hiding behind various masks I am working to put all of the parts of myself together and to feel comfortable in letting others know me. I started this blog with that in mind, and I am enjoying getting to know you all again. I am gradually opening up all the areas of my life to you and enjoy shocking some of you from time to time (see Dating and Parking).
In this journey I am blessed to have a partner who is willing to grow with me, cajole me when I am not present to her, and who is blessed with the sweetest disposition I could imagine. She is truly my partner on all of life’s paths and when I get up the courage to reveal more of myself she is always there, cheering me on. So I propose a toast to my beloved partner, Elyn Aviva. I wish you could all know her.