This letter comes from my dear friend Annemarie Roeper. She has been a teacher her whole life, as her parents were before her. They were forced to flee to the United States as Hitler took over Germany. There is a wonderful film about Annemarie, her journey and gifts called Across Time and Space.
She will be 90 this year and I offer her holiday letter as a great gift.
Holiday Letter 2007
Thinking back over the past year, I feel that one of the things that has made this an important year for me is that I was nominated by the NAGC and its Conceptual Foundations Division to be the first honoree in a series called, "Portraits in Gifted Education: the Legacy Series," established to interview and videotape notable educators, researchers, leaders and advocates. I was deeply touched by this honor, partly on a personal level and partly because it signifies a more general acceptance of giftedness as a set of emotional characteristics as well as the more familiar cognitive ones.
I'm kind of eager to share my thoughts, feelings and experiences with you, and yet I don't know where to begin. I will be 90 years old this coming summer and I find myself in a new phase of life. I truly don't know where I belong. I imagine that this feeling is typical for people my age: there is no defined category in which to fit. There is a place for children and parents, a place for adulthood, a place for grandparents; but what comes after that is largely unexplored territory. There is no question that I'm at the end of my life. But I realize that I'm the same person that I was at the beginning of my life. I feel that I see the world, my Self, and my relationship to my environment through the same eyes that I was born with.
A few years ago I wrote a book, “The 'I' of the Beholder.” That same “I” looks out on the world today as it did eighty-nine years ago. I imagine I have learned from experience, yet I feel that I'm not basically wiser. I believe that a newborn infant holds all the wisdom that he or she will ever have. In fact, there is an enormous richness that exists in the inner life of the infant. There is no more passionate love than the love of the baby for its mother. All future loves grow out of this one, and the whole life is flavored by the original relationship. In fact, I believe that feelings never shine as brilliantly as they do in the young child. Feelings soon become jaded, and changed by ambitions and goals, and by the belief that we need to do the reasonable thing, whatever that may be for any individual.
But maybe I've reached a point in my life where I don't have to be reasonable anymore. I won't start a school again; I won't have children again. There are no “have to's” anymore. Is that good? I don't know-it's frightening. I'm free (!) to do anything I want.
But that is the fantasy, that is the imagination. In reality, I'm more restricted than I've ever been. There are more fences and more “No Trespassing” signs in my life, not because someone or something is stopping me, but because I can't. I'm not physically able. And then there are the prejudices against old age, which you come across every step of the way. “Does she take sugar in her coffee?” a waiter asked my companion, evidently thinking I didn't have the capacity to answer for myself. And yet, I realize, and this may not be true for everybody my age, that my mind is as sharp as ever, there isn't much that I miss, but there is little I can do about that prejudice.
At this moment, I'm looking out my living room window, looking at the panorama below me. The cars are going by in all directions. I think of the people inside them, intent on their upcoming destinations, each filled with an equally large panorama of thoughts and feelings, hopes and disappointments, a panorama as big as the one outside. But it's stuck inside each person, and no one else knows anything about it.
I used to have such high hopes. I used to think that my task was to change the world. That is why George and I founded a school, after the enormous disappointment we had in Germany. We may have made a difference for some of our students and for our own three children, but I must realize that in the long run my very existence will be forgotten, and probably that is as it should be.
And yet, there is a continuity, life itself is continuous: my great-grandson, who was a year old in November, carries some of my DNA, which has come to him from the unknown, distant past. Of course, we are living in a world filled with turmoil, as it always has been, but life itself is a miracle; and the joy we can give each other, the love that enables us to experience each other, to support each other, is a miracle in itself.
And now I'm looking at everything that's been given me and I am filled with gratitude. As I age, I know that with my children and also many of my friends, the roles have been reversed. I've become the recipient, rather than the giver, of love and care. I realize that this is my task for the few years that I'm still around: to learn to receive, hoping and believing that I can trust my environment to continue to support my independence of thought and decision-making, even if I can't continue to live as independently as I have up to this point.
It might be a good New Year's resolution to remember that it's not up to me, and never was, to try to change the world. Maybe I can still make a tiny contribution, but more for myself, for my own enjoyment, than for the benefit of the world. My task now is to deal with my own death in a courageous manner, and to make becoming a part of that Unknown I've always admired and thought about my new reality.
At this moment, I'm the oldest person that I know, and I know I will be carried to my end on the wings of love of all those who care for me.
Have a wonderful New Year.
Here is her website: http://www.roeperconsultation.com/