Wish Stories

Colleen Finds Inspiration by the Ocean

“I express myself best in the written word,” says Colleen, age 72. And luckily for the people in her life, this beloved mother, grandmother, and English teacher has not kept her passion for language to herself.

Colleen understands that poetry is an expression of life on many levels— of both emotions and the experiences that evoke them. That’s why while she was an English teacher, she invested in her students far beyond the textbook curriculum. Of course, she taught her students the foundations of English, but simultaneously, she opened their hearts and minds in other ways to dig deep into what it means to be human.

What did that look like? Colleen taught her middle school students about rites of passage from many cultures. She challenged them to research the Holocaust from both the perspectives of prisoners and rescuers, exploring the complexities of the human condition. Over the years, she also traveled abroad with her students, helping them broaden their worldviews by traveling to Germany, Turkey, and Russia. She supervised her students as they did research, gave presentations, and hosted dinners to raise money to deactivate land mines in Cambodia.

Colleen was the kind of teacher that students think back on as their own children enter school. And those fortunate enough to learn alongside her walked away not only with exceptional writing skills, but also with a deep understanding of the richness of life. Now, in her retirement, she cherishes these relationships and gets together regularly with her former students.

Wish recipient Colleen writes poetry by hand in a notebook while sitting on the beach
Colleen looks out at the ocean introspectively with her back to the camera

Colleen has faced the depths and heights of her own life by putting words to the page.

She has experienced challenges in her life as a wife and parent. She has gone through the emotional weight of being a caretaker and has felt the deep sorrow of losing loved ones. Poetry has allowed her to capture and work through these experiences— joyful, poignant, or tragic as they may be.

“None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Really live in the present, and live with the people you love—soak it up and cherish even the mundane things.” — Colleen

Even after retiring from teaching, Colleen has kept writing close to her heart. This year, Colleen’s grandson is in his older adult year of high school, quickly approaching an exciting and challenging new season of life. Discussing his future with his grandmother, he confided that he wished his grandfather—who was his best friend— was still here to give him advice.

She knew just what to do. Colleen wrote a letter in her husband’s voice, capturing his personality by using his favorite words and phrases. Her grandson told Colleen that he treasures this letter. When he feels confused or unsure of what to do, he finds comfort and direction in its words: “It sounds like I’m talking to Grandpa,” he said.

Like her grandson, Colleen is facing a new season in her own life. She is reflecting on her legacy, and what that means to her. Documenting her thoughts, experiences, and ideas is core to who she is as a person, and she wants to share her life through stories, poems, and letters.

But, as any writer would agree, it’s not always easy to find time to write during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Colleen is very active in her community, devoting time to the Children’s Ministry, volunteering at the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, and spending time at her nieces’ and nephews’ schools. She even has dinner with her grandson every week.

Coleen smiles and embraces with daughter while walking along the ocean
Colleen and daughter embrace and hold hands on the beach
Colleen and her daughter embrace while sitting on big rock on beach with bare feet

When our team at Wish of a Lifetime heard about Colleen’s wish, we were inspired by its radical simplicity. Colleen’s wish was to travel somewhere beautiful and have solitary time to write.

Knowing Colleen, this wish reflects who she is as a person: “This is silly, but I would love to be somewhere warm where I could sit in solitude and have time to write poetry,” she said.

We thought that a trip to the ocean would be just the writer’s retreat that Colleen needed. In April of 2022, she traveled to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, to soak in the ocean, take in the sunshine, and have uninterrupted writing time.

“The water is very calming; it fits the rhythm of my heart.” — Colleen

Looking out at the ocean, Colleen found the quiet introspection and reflection she was yearning for. And that alone time was balanced with the chance to spend quality time with her daughter. The pair took in the sights and smells of the beach, looking out at the horizon and walking barefoot through the sand in the golden hour.

Even for Colleen, it was hard to put the nourishing experience into words.

“I just have so many lovely images tucked away in my heart and mind…to just have the freedom to write and write and write—it was a gift.”

Her trip to the ocean reminded Colleen of the importance of living in the present. She wants the readers of her story to reflect on the special and beautiful moments in their lives, but not to let the past or the future overshadow the beauty of right now.

“Celebrate life! Just grab ahold of it!” — Colleen

Colleen and her daughter laugh as they walk together along the ocean

Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is changing how we age, one inspirational wish at a time.

Submit a life-changing wish in your community, and share your favorite wish story on Facebook and Instagram to inspire your network!

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail