When I was in high school, I had a counselor who referred to me as her late bloomer. I suppose it was because I never had a date in those days, though I had friends enough. At least, I seldom sat alone at lunch in the school cafeteria. Even so, I’ve never felt in sync with my peers and at 82 I still don’t. Unlike a majority of them, I didn’t make it to the altar. I had no children, unless my former students may be embraced as such. If so, I have many children to be proud of.
Being a late bloomer never embarrassed me. Much of my life, I’ve spend shunpiking the main road, preferring hidden byways. Those seldom traveled thoroughfares have added a piquancy to my experiences and nourished my perceptions.
If I’d focused on a single career, I’d have missed the reward that comes from dabbling in several: teacher, union organizer, politician, and most recently, writer. This later phase is one I savor. But I can’t say it’s more rewarding than helping a student grapple with a problem until he or she masters it. No, being a teacher may have worn me to the bone, but it was a good wasting, like squeezing into a wedding gown after a prolonged diet. Teaching made me happy.
Other work brought different satisfactions. I was proud to wear the union label. Defending justice in the workplace was a David and Goliath struggle, but after a bruising, I never hesitated to aim the slingshot again – as many times as necessary. Politics was a different matter. Mostly, it is the art of compromise, reaching settlements that sometimes were difficult for me to swallow. My idealism tarnished a bit, but I was glad for the opportunity to raise my voice for the forgotten. If I sometimes went hoarse, my cause was a good one — a homeless shelter for battered women or a place of rehabilitation for X-offenders.
That I’ve turned to writing toward the end of my life seems fitting. Without the information gathered from traveling those varied byways, what would I have to reflect upon? Besides, when it comes to reflection, the old are better tempered for it than the young.
Thank heavens the brain retains a plasticity which can serve us well into our dotage. The book, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed With Early Achievement by Rich Kalgaard points to the negative aspects of pressuring the young to perform while forgetting the contributions of those who are older. (“Book of the Week, The Week, May 17, 2019, pg. 23.) Wasn’t Frank McCourt approaching 70 when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Angelia’s Ashes ?
Many people reach their mountain top late in life. In fact, if we bothered to do our homework, we’d find the world is full of late bloomers. Young brains process information faster than older ones, but that may be because older ones have more material at their disposal. We call that material experience, a gem beyond price. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself this question. Whom would you prefer to be Speaker of the House at this moment: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez or Nancy Pelosi?