Center for Creativity and Work
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Getting Closer to Family Leads to Her Life's Work

Saturday, February 8, 2003

Plan, plan, plan. That's sound advice from retirement experts. But sometimes the universe already has a plan for us, and Gwen Marable was shown hers when she retired in 1989 after 21 years of teaching first and second grade in the North Babylon school district.

After saying goodbye to her classroom, she moved to Baltimore to be closer to her family - her daughter lived there and her son moved there a few years later. But Marable soon got closer to her family than she had imagined when she received a phone call in 1992 from her cousin Charles Weiker, who was tracing the family tree.

"Sit down. I have news for you," she remembers him saying. "I have traced our lineage back to Jemima Banneker, Benjamin Banneker's sister."

Benjamin Banneker - who turned out to be Marable's great-uncle going back five generations - was the Colonial-era self-taught scientist, astronomer and mathematician who walked the world a free man at a time when so few blacks in this country did. He is known for writing seven almanacs, serving on the surveying team for the development of Washington, D.C., and exchanging letters with Thomas Jefferson on freedom for slaves. Indeed, Marable had included him once in a Black History Month display she created at her school.

What happened next was akin to an erupting volcano, she says. She and her family attended the 200th anniversary celebration of the publication in Baltimore of his first almanac. She became involved with a group planning a museum in his honor and was soon invited to join the board. Not long afterward, she became the group's president. In 1998 the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum was opened in Oella, Md.

"As I look back, I realize everything I've done since I was a little girl has led to my being able to do the Banneker work," says Marable, 70. She and others "have always felt a very strong spiritual sense running through the project."

As for her own lack of planning for retirement activities, she says, "I believe in divine order. I don't have to have a plan.... What I do is stay open to the possibilities."

Such openness is important, says Allie Roth, a holistic career and life planning coach in Manhattan with a special interest in those over age 55. Sure, it's important to plan, but "don't get so lost in the plan that you can't be open to what else the universe may have in store for you." Be receptive to "meaningful coincidences," she says.

Marable, also a yoga instructor and oral historian, advises soon- to-be retirees to "look at your life experience, gather it all up and apply it to your life right now. ... Find out who you are besides the work you used to do."
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