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Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: On walking away from work

HAYDENVILLE — I have worked my entire life. Most people could write that same sentence. But I am reflecting now on having worked my entire life because I am soon to embark on the first sabbatical of my life and I am somewhat awe-struck. Three months, my goodness, during which I will be paid to do whatever I fancy.

I find this staggering.

My working life began when I was a teenager and, like many teenage girls, I gobbled up baby-sitting jobs whenever they came my way so I could have my own cash to buy makeup. I then progressed to working at a drugstore in my hometown. The drugstore owner told me and the other teenager who worked there that when we stocked the shelves, we could eat any candy bars that were broken. So we spent a lot of time stocking the shelves, breaking candy bars and eating them.

I am now 61, and since those early drugstore days I have had (I recently counted) 14 jobs — counting my current position as pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church. My employment history is diverse and slightly hilarious. I have had so many different kinds of jobs. When reviewing all the positions I have held since my teenage years, I look like a renaissance woman or a lost soul.

Here is a partial list of my 45 years of working life: payroll bookkeeper in a college dining hall, waitress, fifth-grade teacher in a private boarding school, reference librarian in a university library, labor and delivery nurse, instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming, professor at two local colleges, executive director of a small peace organization, director of training for a public foundation, consultant, dean of religious life at Mount Holyoke College, and director of education at the district attorney’s office.

And it all began with baby-sitting and stocking shelves.

As I prepare for my first sabbatical and review my work history, I feel both very tired and very grateful. Grateful that thus far in my life I have had the opportunity to work in so many different settings and learn from each one; grateful that so many employers have taken the risk and hired me with a somewhat nutty resume; grateful that in that wacko list of jobs, I have been challenged, given enormous responsibility and the chance to be creative.

When in college in the early 1970s, we used to say, “Work is love made visible.” Work is also drudgery and exhausting. But work in this society is a source of identity, pride, accomplishment and making one’s mark on the world. Work is valuable and valued.

And in this current recession, having work is enviable. Often, in fact, having work is enviable. And having meaningful work is a truly great prize.

I started preparing for my sabbatical two years ago when I attended a “Plan Your Sabbatical” workshop for clergy. Immediately after it, I made detailed plans about what I would do during my precious three months. I have been through a half a dozen of those plans and thrown out each one when I envisioned myself actually doing those things. The discarded list includes going to Provincetown and writing a book, going to Philadelphia and volunteering in a homeless shelter, going to a retreat center in New Mexico and meditating in the desert, moving into a Quaker study center and reading for three months.

Now the sabbatical is here and the plans are set.

I have stitched together times of prayer, meditation and walking — long walks being just about my very favorite thing to do. The sabbatical is part inner exploration and part adventure — a good combination, I think. I will begin the three months with an eight-day silent retreat at a Jesuit Monastery in Gloucester.

Soon after that I will leave for Spain. I will walk the Camino, a 500-mile ancient pilgrimage across northern Spain — a route that hundreds of thousands of people have walked for almost 1,000 years. I am 61 and tired. I am not sure I can do it. But this is my one sabbatical and so at least I can try.

And so, I’m off!

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com. Her column will resume after her Spanish pilgrimage.

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