u-turn

A temperamental sense of balance and an overly sensitive inner ear don’t make the best flight companions. Fortunately, the only moments of the journey that we tend to be at odds occur during takeoff as the plane climbs in altitude. My brain and my ear cannot seem to resolve their past communication issues and as such, are a bit  fluttery when presented with a challenge beyond navigating the balance challenges of a typical day. Each flight and airport present a unique set of circumstances, but discomfort of some kind reveals itself regardless of place or direction. Last night’s flight home brought forth one of the most courageous conversations my brain and my ear have had to flesh out in a long time.

At first, I was relieved. We seemed to be climbing in altitude slowly which always eases tension by allowing my head to adjust to the pressure changes gradually rather than all at once. And then we made a sort of u-turn. Planes turn all the time. No big deal. I sit just in front of the wing and by a window so my eyes can use the visual to explain the discomfort my head feels.

Last night felt different.

The turn was steeper and tighter and incredibly disorienting. There wasn’t a window that I could look through that could grant a stable visual. There seemed to be no steady point on which to focus, to center myself. Gorgeous pink clouds reflecting the beauty of the setting sun should have been distraction enough, but I simply couldn’t get my bearings and it equated to a terrifying minute or so during which the panic of the vertigo days flooded my system. My mind reeled toward flashes of the worst moments from that time swifter than I could stop it. Before I realized what was happening, my hands were shaking and my breath became shallow. Treacherous, sneaky fast, pervasive. Panic acts without notice and I wasn’t prepared to prevent it from persisting. My guard was down.

Eventually, after the plane leveled out, the pressure in my head did as well. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and reminded myself that, despite the painful memories this u-turn invoked, the discomfort was limited, temporary. Despite that feeling of helplessness in mid air, I was okay–safe, balanced, headed home.  Another inhale, a breath of gratitude. The exhale, a prayer of peace.

I have these u-turn moments from time to time-I feel like in some strange way, in our own ways, we all do. A moment when something triggers my vertigo panic button or rips the stitches that contain my grief and suddenly I am swallowed up. Whether fleeting or lingering, the emotion is disorienting and even when I am surrounded by goodness and love, it can be hard to see it clearly enough…even when I know the feeling will be temporary and I am in charge of its dismantling, it can be hard to find my balance long enough to wait it out.

Yet, inevitably, the moment always levels out, the pressure of the panic subsides, I realize that I am held in love unconditionally-that I am safe, and I breathe. Will the vertigo come back some day? Almost definitely. Will that be awful? Um, probably… I can live with that aspect of my life, I have to. I don’t have to like it and from time to time, I’ll be caught in a bit of a u-turn moment, but this is my lot and with it, I can still do so much.

Inhale, gratitude…exhale, peace.

(Entry 29 in the king cake writing challenge!)

acceptance

For what seems like my entire adult life, careless eaters and their subsequent audible mouth noises have rendered me wretched. Crunching, smacking, squishing, gulping…all of it… every muscle within me would tense, while on the outside, I would futilely attempt to withhold visible reaction (though once my shiver pronounces it’s presence, it is hard to mask my irritation). I have no way of explaining the swift development of this distress in any given moment, other than to say it is intrinsic, instinctive. No frustrated thought process exacerbates my reaction and tolerance entirely eludes the grasp of my capabilities.

Despite this aversion in my adult years, I also possess vivid recollection of my mom having to correct me, repeatedly, for smacking when I was a kid. Looking back, I cannot fathom why it took me so long to learn that lesson. Obviously, my manners required refinement, but somehow the sound of my own chewing didn’t seem to deter me. I am not sure when the changeover occurred. I just know that in the same way that I suffer a full body reaction to cilantro when it evades my careful eye and ambushes my taste buds, mouth noises incur complete revulsion.

Despite years of living into this disgust to the point of it worsening, my life turned in a bit of a punishing direction. In the midst of the fury of my inner ear disorder, when it had reached the point of disability, I consented to a surgery that offered no guarantees but did generate hope for restoration. I knew going in that the surgery, whether successful or not, would result in muffled hearing in my left ear as it healed and as the packing inserted during surgery dissolved. I knew a tube would be inserted as well that would also complicate my hearing for a while, but given that my hearing was already complicated, this seemed like a small sacrifice.

A few months after surgery, the surgeon removed the tube and for about three days, my hearing returned to the quality it kept before I was sick…not just pre-surgery but pre-illness. Everything about my life seemed to hold greater clarity in those days-I heard my kids clearly without having to see their mouths moving to decipher their words, my thoughts were uninterrupted by tinnitus, and directionality of sound was restored. The smile on my face in those few days reflected the lightness and joy of my being.

And then the hole the tube tore closed up.

While my hearing remained improved, I quickly discovered that I was also hearing internal noises at a volume not conducive to calm and clarity of thought. Every beat of my heart sent a roar instead of a pulse. Every breath I took, a hurricane in my ear. Every turn of my head, yawn, and stretch accompanied by cracking and squishing–noises we aren’t intended to hear and remains sane. Every word I spoke echoed within.

And also…

Every bite of food I chewed, every sip I took played at full volume and there was no escape, no retreat. All of a sudden, the thing that drove me mad in others became a state of being and no amount of shivering in disgust would resolve the issue. If I wanted to eat and drink (you know, survive), I had to also find a way to manage my disdain for these internal noises. It was hard to explain this situation to others without being greeted with the attempted empathy of “oh yeah, I know what that’s like! Happened to me when I had a cold last year” Not the same. I’ve had colds before that elevated the volume of internal noise. I’ll say it again–not the same…at all.

I wish I could say this surgical consequence brought me new perspective on the patience I should show others before reacting, but it didn’t really. However, it did grant me a realization. Was this situation uncomfortable? Yep. Did it make eating disorienting and difficult? Definitely. But, here’s the thing, I wasn’t dizzy anymore. The tinnitus was gone. I finally functioned in the world, for the most part, like other healthy people (with a few restrictions). I was present with my family and friends. I had been given so much only to be annoyed by these noises that over time, I could learn to live with if I only tried to focus on the positive rather than on the grotesque.

100% effective? Let’s just say, I require reminders:) Just tonight, while attempting to enjoy a piece of pizza, I nearly quit the meal 4 times (literally)  because I just couldn’t take the eating noises anymore. Then I remembered there was a time that just chewing pizza held the potential to incite vertigo. I let my frustration go and I enjoyed the treat.

And I think that is the point. There are so many moments in this life to enjoy when we just step back, let go of the frustration, harness our gratitude and dive into the delight.

(Day 22:) Also, Orange team don’t be mad about the pizza! I promise I ran 4 miles today too!)

Heavy

We wear our stress until our stress wears us out. The physical toll, unmistakably draining, exacts its punishment mercilessly. Yet we persist in carrying that weight under the misguided impression that we were meant to bear it alone. We shelter others from what we shoulder as though we prove something about our worth in doing so. We exist within community but refuse the benefits of becoming an actual member of that community. We deny support. We deny outreach. And in doing so, we deny our best life. Sleep eludes us; irritability invades. We become merely a shadowing our possibility. We grow weary and feel heavy.

I can discern simply by looking at my high school students where their stress levels are–and a lot of times, I find myself concerned. I do not mean to imply that they should be shielded from discomfort or that they have nothing to learn from it or that sometimes they don’t create it themselves. A healthy amount of intermittent stress and learning to manage it and to cope with it possess the potential to hone life skills in meaningful ways. What worries me is when my kids turn that stress inward and refuse to speak its truth because they think they should simply tough it out. What worries me is when their stress becomes their shame because what they learn in those moments is to feel less than and unworthy…isolated and singular.

So today, I wore the hat of relatively corny principal/English teacher–but I hold no humiliation in actions I think could remotely help even one of my kiddos. As they filed in for assembly today, I asked that each kid grab a rock from a collection that had been scattered on a table. I began by asking how many of them ever felt weighed down or heavy from holding onto their stress. Hands flew up. Then, I explained that sometimes in community, we forget that that we share the space so we can share the burden as well as the bounty. Sometimes we get a little lost and a little blinded to the help that surrounds us. I told them that a visible reminder that they didn’t have to be alone in carrying the heavy seemed like it could be helpful. Then, I asked them to write their stress on their rock and when they felt ready to share the  gravity of that burden, to drop it in a back pack that I would carry around school as that reminder–a reminder that, in fact, people were all around them ready to listen and lighten the load.

There were some very to be expected eye rolls:) But I fully admitted that I didn’t care how silly it seemed, we were doing it because they and their well being are important to me. There was also concern over my carrying a bag with 150 rocks in it, but I told them that I could manage the weight without wavering…not to worry.

At some point today I opened the bag to shift the rocks a bit and saw some of the stressors written on them. The rocks may have been small, the words written flatly across them, but the immensity of what these kids are walking through life with was unmistakable. Part of teaching the whole child, or of seeing the whole human, is owning a willingness to witness the reality of their existence. What may come across as a kid overly concerned about good grades could really be deeper stress that is fed and fostered by something much darker, something much more difficult to manage. And there is no way to know this by simply looking at the surface. We have to be willing to open the door to conversation, to trust. We have to be willing to put on a backpack full of rocks if even for a second it alleviates their weight and allows them to feel seen and loved. We have to be willing to see past our own discomfort to understand that of others.

And not for reward, but simply because this is what we do in community.

We live in relationship with one another.

Hard to be in relationship if we live alone in our own heavy.

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(Day 20! That’s a lot of days in a row:) )

vibrance wins

“You can’t build a house of leaves/And live like it’s an evergreen/It’s just a season thing/It’s just this thing the seasons do”

John Mayer, “Wheel”

Just a few short months ago, summer evenings spoiled me with beautifully painted skies that awakened a sense of wonder and awe. Splashes of orange and pink and purple decorated the expanse in ways no human hand could as though the descent of the sun into the horizon warranted fanfare, fireworks. Sometimes, though, it was more of a muted affair. Hues of deep blue and smoky grey would stretch in gauzy translucence only allowing a glimpse at the ribbons of color they masked…and only allowing beams of light to escape here and there rather than revealing the complete enchantment of the sunset (as though to say, not tonight, its beauty would be too much to take in, so here is just a taste).

I found myself eagerly anticipating the surprise of the sky each evening and wondering offering might be next. And in all of that time, through all of those evenings spent in reverence, I had not anticipated the grey of winter. I don’t necessarily live in a place that experiences four seasons (and if we have seasons at all, Carnival season is one of them…hence the incarnation of this blog challenge). Winter isn’t really winter here. Snow doesn’t blanket the earth and freezing temperatures are not a regular occurrence. I mean, it is January and the high today was somewhere around 78 degrees. Of course, a cool front is moving through and the high tomorrow is supposed to be 52 degrees–which while Louisianians will don scarves and boots and shiver in sweatshirts and jeans, is still not really winter comparatively.

However, what winter here does bring is grey rainy days and fog…lots of fog. Fog that is disorienting and forgetful; fog that instills a sort of desperation for the sun…for its warmth and its smile across the sky. Fog that hangs heavy in the morning and just when you think it is about to lift, droops heavier once again, blanketing buildings and trees and landscapes nearly completely, muting the beauty of our surroundings and the brilliance of the gifts of this life. In its ability to hide the world from us, the fog also issues forth feelings of isolation. We can lose our connectivity as life beyond the fog is merely a mystery.

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“And if you never stop when you wave goodbye/You just might find if you give it time/You will wave hello again/You just might wave hello again”

John Mayer, “The Wheel”

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Tonight, my kiddo who is experiencing his first state student council convention about three hours away from home sent me a picture of the sky. The cool front I mentioned had already passed through and the sun was breaking through just in time to say goodnight.

60108373783__8D5A22DE-32A3-4603-98BB-B96FF58052C9.jpegWhile this glimpse of the sun is but a brief respite before the fog and rain of January return, it is also a beautiful reminder that even when lost in the fog, the sun will eventually shine again. The color will return and the haze will lift. And when it does, we won’t be the same as we were before the days of the fog, because we are always moving and changing. We are always growing and learning–for better or for worse. But we will still be blessed again by the richness of these vibrant visions that remind us of all we are. Because, truly, if we are given the gift of the sunset, we must be worth so much more than we realize.

(Day eleven:) This sunset pic from my kiddo melted my heart for a lot of reasons but mainly because he had a day filled with tremendous anxiety and stress on this trip. He had just started to find relief–his metaphorical fog had lifted–and the joy in his text when he sent this pic filled my mama’s heart with comfort and joy. Watching this boy learn to live with and navigate his anxiety in similar ways to me at his age can often be painful but I am so proud of him at the same time)

worthy

“…Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.”

from “Lost” by David Wagoner

For anyone who just needs to hear this today…or on any day to come…

a way in…Years ago, when my youngest was in first or second grade we hosted a pretty typical event–he brought a friend home from school with him to play for the afternoon. Except this kid was anything but typical! He very proudly explained to me that he was a survivalist with wilderness survival skills that other kids only saw on television. In the ten minute ride home, he regaled us with his knowledge proving the truth of his assertion. Let’s just say, when lost in the wilderness, he is who I want to be my guide!

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There are moments (days, weeks, months, years) in this life when the only way to justly explain the location of our mental health, of our well-being, of our clarity, is to name “the wilderness”. And the wilderness isn’t such a bad place to be…for a while. Exploration of this uncharted territory often offers deeper insight into who we have been, who we are and who we might become. The silence of our time there, at the start, feels contemplative and so we engage it rather than fear it.

Yet, inevitably, at some point, the wilderness exhausts us.

The silence becomes loneliness rather than solitude. The trees choke out the light and the path we thought we were on muddies itself and the weight of being lost settles in. In the darkness, we can no longer see ourselves or sense our purpose through the panic. In the darkness, we imagine the worst until it becomes our reality. In the darkness, doubt enters. In the darkness, we become uncertain of our capacity to maintain the strength it will take to exit the wilderness at all…we begin to doubt there is even a possible exit. Weakened, we succumb to sitting down, head hanging in distress.

And we forget.

We forget that the difficult moments in our lives are not the only moments in our lives.

We forget that we have been here before.

We forget that we survived…that we are battle-ready…that we are strong.

We forget that we are worth the struggle because sometimes it feels like the world has forgotten this too (even when it tries to tell us otherwise).

We forget what it is like to see clearly, without distortion, and to trust the well-meaning words of those who love us as truths–in the dark, it is hard to trust anything–and so in the dark, we forget we are loved.

And we hunger.

We hunger for a ray of light to break through the canopy and to shine upon us–a reminder that good has not been entirely eradicated from our existence.

We hunger for our hearts to feel in full rather than in shades.

We hunger for peace rather than pieces.

We hunger for someone else to do the work that we feel too empty to attempt.

We hunger for community, clarity, connection.

And all the while, we feel lost, unseen, misunderstood.

My only purpose in this blog is to say this…

I see you. I know you because I have been you. I’m here to shine that ray of light on whatever your situation is–to be your survivalist, your guide while you feel so invisible in the darkness. To let you know that you are not alone and that more than anything, you-just as you are-you are worth and worthy of the struggle. It won’t be easy; we know that. It will often feel impossible to orienteer your way through. Harness a strand of energy and strive to shine your own light again. It is still there, buried deep, waiting to be rediscovered.

But until then, I promise, there are others who will be beacons for you because they know that “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a powerful stranger…”

Sending love into the world today to all my fellow current and former wilderness dwellers. And also to my young survivalist who is battling his own metaphorical wilderness these days with courage and heart (truly survival skills)…an example to the rest of us for sure.

(Day Seven–not sure where this one came from but it felt necessary to honor the idea today. Also, every struggle is different and so if you need more than a pep-talk of a blog written by an optimist and not a professional, this is an excellent resource: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org and also 1-800-273-8255 )

turn around

This is a blog of two pictures and a simple reminder.

So, there I was, waiting in the car for my oldest to finish up at cross country. I sort of dread these evening cross country practices because they mean leaving school after a long day, only to return shortly thereafter. It means, I arrive at school just after the sun comes up and I leave just after the sun goes down…it’s not a short day. So, there I was, sitting in the car while it was getting darker trying to stay awake and slowly coming to understand how it was that my dad always fell asleep waiting for me to be done with whatever activity he was picking me up from. Honestly, if I didn’t work at the school, a nap in the car would’ve been a pretty brilliant use of my time (a picture of the principal sleeping in her car in the parking lot spreading through SnapChat stories isn’t worth the extra sleep…for real).

Regardless, I was staring at a darkening sky and thinking of everything I had to do and it was weighing me down.

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I was spending my time as any weary mom might…wallowing in thoughts of cooking dinner and getting kids ready for bed and writing this blog and wanting to just crawl into my own bed instead. I wasn’t doing much to rekindle my energy…just cycling from sleepy to sleepier.  In the midst of this not so proud moment, I received a text from my husband who had just finished coaching my youngest at soccer practice. My son had asked him to send me a picture of the sky because he knew I would love it…he was right.

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It was in that moment I realized that beauty and light were still present…all I had to do was turn around. Instead of gazing straight ahead into the darkness, if I simply turned around and looked behind my car, I could see these last warm tinges of the day’s glow before they settled in for the night. If I only turned around, I could witness the reminder of all that I have to be grateful for. If I just turned around, revival awaited. This action would take energy, sure. It would also require a little faith that I wouldn’t have missed the moment…faith there would still be light to be shared…faith I wouldn’t just be disappointed.

So many moments in life require this energy, this faith. So many moments feel easier if we just stay in our lane heading listlessly into the dark skies craving sleep instead of experience. So many moments feel too overwhelming to make the effort. So many moments distract us from the awareness that the light is waiting for us to find it. So many moments require someone else to remind us that the there is still warmth and beauty in the world.

As fortunate as I am that my son was that reminder for me tonight, he also helped me to remember that I need to be this reminder for others as well. He didn’t make me turn around. He didn’t badger me or try futilely to revive my mood. He didn’t make any empty promises that everything would be okay, as we are so prone to doing when we don’t know what else to say to someone lost in the dark. He didn’t even know I was sulking in the car all those miles away. He just knew I would love that picture and so he found a way to send it my way. He was mindful; he was present.

Just as we all should be. Mindful. Present.

(this poem came to mind while I wrote this entry… “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes)

redeeming grief

In December of 2004, I lost a piece of myself that isn’t really retrievable. It was a week before Christmas and I found myself delivering my first child into a world he would never know. There will be no deep dive into the details of my pregnancy with Nathan and what determined our loss–if you want those, you can find them here.

This blog series is aimed at positivity so it seems odd I would bring this loss up at all, but I promise, it comes with good reason. You see, this year, Nathan, had he not been so sick, would be old enough to attend high school…and since I am a high school  principal and teacher, this weighs heavy. I walk around my school each day and I watch the antics of my freshmen–I hear the silly giggles, still tinged with junior high joy; I see the awkwardness settling as they begin to figure out high school; I reassure their parents that their kids will in fact mature and that they will find success. And I do all of this with a bit of an achey heart these days because I should be more deeply involved in this scenario than just the voice of principalian experience (and yes, I just made that word up…). I should be walking campus tickled by the laughter of my own son and his friends…I should be the parent in need of reassurance. In the midst of this realization, I felt my grief, which I have spent so long taming, rediscovering its roar.

Sadness was welling up and I was struggling to push it down.

This was so much harder than I thought it was going to be…and I spent the summer preparing for it!

But as we have wandered through these early weeks of school, I have learned to live my gratitude (which is what redeemed my grief all those years ago). These days, I walk around campus and instead of feeling betrayed by loss, I feel even closer to Nathan than usual. It is almost as if he is present with me just a little bit more each day. Instead of what ifs, I just feel grateful that I have the chance to work with, teach and help all of these kids who are as old as he should be. It is my gift back in some strange way.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life trying to figure out the purpose to my grief, and while I may spend the next 15 years trying to do the same, I have learned a few things. When I harness my grief to offer empathy to those who are suffering, the loss is less. When I view my students through the lens of “If this were Nathan, how would I want someone to treat him in this moment?”, I am a better teacher and human. When I transform grief into gratitude, my loss is vindicated. When Nathan feels alive in my heart, when I recognize that I am still his mom, his death doesn’t feel so vacant.

People question my sort of annoying optimism regularly. I feel like if they understood the loss and the illness and the sacrifices endured, those questions would dissolve. I have every reason to live angry with the world. I choose not to. That isn’t easy. It is a daily decision; it is an active lifestyle and it is imperfect. But optimism and seeking gratitude allow me to see greater purpose in the difficulty, in my life. It allows me to put myself on the side and to see beyond the periphery of the moment, of the wounds. It allows me to seek positivity each and everyday. It allows me to truly live.

And that is what Nathan would want most for his mom anyway. I can’t deny him that.

(and because I haven’t offered enough poems lately…here are a couple…“One Art” By Elizabeth Bishop“Lost” by David Waggoner (okay, for real, if you don’t click on this link you need to read this line–life changing! “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a  powerful stranger,”)

reminiscent

A couple of years ago, I attended the Heinemann literacy retreat in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. We spent mornings in this idyllic environment filling pages of writers notebooks while working with Linda Rief. Really, those mornings earned and own space as beloved moments of time–moments that could never endure a precise recreation, for I will never be exactly as I was then. Yet, they live on inside of me nonetheless.

On one of those brilliant Maine mornings, I wrote the following piece. I’m not sure what made me think of it today, but suddenly I found myself possessed with the desire to seek out my notebook from that week and find this particular piece…and maybe nudge it and rework it a bit. A response to Katrina and the loss my family suffered in her fury, this piece testifies, I think, that even though lives move on and we find healing, solace, old wounds still open up every now and again, proving painful with their sting.

My mom and dad and sister and brother will probably read this piece and I worry that it will be too much (so maybe, stop reading here you guys…or if you continue, don’t say I didn’t warn you!). But I also don’t want to leave these thoughts out of the record of my heart, my life.

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The table that got carried away by the flood knew stories, so it knew lives. Knew my childhood. My family–all of them: those that came before me, those that sat around it with me, whether for many years or for fewer than felt fair. It knew projects and homework and it knew me–the tiniest in the house charged with dusting its belly and legs—a job to keep little hands occupied and little me out of the way (that is until I deserted its secret dusty crevices in exchange for the tedium of picking parsley leaves in the kitchen).

It knew warmth. The center of our gathered hearts as we shared a meal, exchanged communion in conversation, offered up wishes of Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday or Congratulations–our most precious occasions. And it celebrated with us. Holding up our joy, taking in our laughter (or our tears), relishing it all. A bounty of food could only further adorn its beauty, a bounty of love surrounding it, effervescent. It became a touchstone, a symbol for family, for togetherness.

The table that got carried away by the flood also knew discord (all families really do). It stood strong in the midst of disagreements, teenage angst, parental concern…endured the occasion frustrated fist hammering down in order to punctuate a point…and it reverberated the echo as if in agreement. It knew grief too and absorbed the weight of loss as we attempted to endure and learn to live again.

But the saltwater of those tears could not prepare it for the deluge to come, for the sacrificial offering it would become. The table had withstood floodwaters before (though they merely tickled its toes), so it had remained confidently behind…on guard so to speak for all the life that house contained even with its people huddled together in some other house, in some other city just distant enough to escape danger (they were some of the lucky ones; they had a place to go). Yet, the enormous rush of water didn’t baptize to bring forth new life. No, these waters came in a hurry and took up residence only to depart weeks later leaving mold, stench and destruction in their wake.

Today, there are grandkids who sit around a different table (one with far less history) beside their parents, grandparents, cousins. Today, new conversations scintillate the air around a new table in a new-old house. Today, there are celebrations and arguments and joy and there is family and that abundance overwhelms, but the missing remain present as no one expected the lingering litany of loss.

The table that got carried away by the flood could not be replaced, though a stand in fills its vacancy. Memories only surface intermittently these days causing ephemeral tinges of longing for another chance to grace its antique sturdiness. These moment usher in longing and then gratitude, for life, health, the past, and the people that brought that table to life.

(Day 33–this one was a joy to write, though I don’t love the ending…it is a bit rushed, but so am I. I can return another day.)

love-hate

Reading and I have endured a bit of a love-hate relationship over the course of time. (I’m pretty sure that as an English teacher, I am not supposed to admit to this…but if anything, I am overly candid, so consider it a purposeful admission)

As a child, I honestly hated to read. Painfully slow, the process itself became an exercise in humiliation and self-retribution. I was a smart kid, so why was I such a slow reader? Books felt endless and the embarrassment I sustained, even when reading in a room alone, slowed my process further and detoured my comprehension regularly. I struggled to find myself and to make connections within the books I was reading, so I distanced myself from reading altogether. I faked my way through assigned readings and the subsequent tests and projects. And I must say, that I accomplished this task with style and stellar grades. An expert at covering my lack of diligence…I could take pride in that. No one would have ever guessed.

I did enjoy shorter texts. Poe’s stories riveted me and poetry was a language that seemed foreign to so many but preached wisdom to my mind and my innermost self. This isn’t surprising, though, given my situation. I was a slow reader which I thought meant I was a terrible reader and my stamina languished as a result. Short texts, even for me, became a worthwhile challenge; they made me feel smart and insightful. They propelled me forward.

My junior year of high school, though, I met with the book that would transform not only my reading life but my future as well, The Great Gatsby. It was required reading, a book not of my own choosing and so historically, it should have been one I ignored. However, something about Fitzgerald’s words and imagery drew me into its pages, into its story, into its complexity. I found myself sharing my analysis in class and in papers and realizing that while I was a slow reader, part of the reason for that was the thinking and digging into the text that were an intuitive part of my process. No one had ever really paid enough attention to my individual reading habits in school, no one had seen through my veiled charade, so no one had the ability to point this out to me–to instill the necessary confidence. Honestly, without Ms. Osborn’s English III Honors class and this book that captivated my imagination and captured my attention, I would not be an English teacher today. (I really love to tell my students who complain about being slow readers this story! I don’t expect them all to become English teachers, but it is so important for them to know that there are more possibilities than they realize in their own stories and reading lives.)

In recent years, my brain has been distracted by my inner ear issues and the accompanying vertigo and reading became a different kind of challenge. My process slowed more than usual–I fought for comprehension and retention while my brain focused more intently on maintaining balance. Whether I was reading a book or student writing, taking in the words, making connections, considering deeper meanings shifted from a joyful and fulfilling process to an exercise in futility. I found myself faking my way through once again and utterly disheartened, completely discouraged. But again, poetry was the answer. I found solace in these short texts that challenged me as a reader, thinker and writer but also didn’t overwhelm my temporarily stunted abilities. Poetry became my daily meditation.

Suddenly, in the midst of those years of building resentment and irritation, an epiphany settled in. So many of my students suffer from learning differences and for them the process of reading is painful…for them, avoidance is salvation from the discomfort and humiliation of having a brain that is wired for miscommunication…for them, lack of understanding and encouragement only exacerbates their defensiveness and decimates their self-esteem. None of these kids have done anything to earn this set of circumstances, just as I didn’t ask for my inner ear to sever ties with my brain. I took it on as my duty to harness this understanding and to learn greater patience with myself as a reader and to learn what tactics would help me overcome my deficits. I took it on as my duty to work with my kids in the same way–to treat them as I was treating myself and to hope that they could learn to extend themselves some grace in the process, to open themselves up to the vulnerability of working through it. This was hard work but worthwhile, and it began with building confidence and stamina with shorter texts…it began with poetry, it began with choice.

This summer, after the surgery that healed my inner ear, my brain feasted hungrily on every book I could usher its way.  I couldn’t stop myself from reading at every possible opportunity, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had been able to enjoy books in this way. I found it difficult to explain to other people exactly what this liberation felt like; I found it difficult to relate the excitement of reveling in reading for the first time in years. A burden had released. A passion restored. A life revitalized.

(Day 27! Encouraged today by my husband’s refusal to let me quit just because I’m tired and by my students and their enduring smiles and support)

vision

I bought my first pair of reading glasses today and while that feels strange to admit (because in my head, I am still like 32) it also feels a bit like a rite of passage. A normal aging thing after all the weird illnesses and meannesses my body has inflicted on me. Honestly, I was a little excited by the normalcy of it. Finally, something that everyone for the most part will deal with eventually!! I wasn’t desperately in need of these glasses. I only really need to wear them when my contacts are in and even then I can get by. I mean, I am able make out the words on my screen or on the page…just not as easily as I once could. So I procrastinated…longer than I should have. I grew comfortable in my discomfort because it was easier than taking the steps of solving the problem.

It was sort of like when I was sick because of my inner ear, my car got out of hand messy. I mean unbelievably so. I was embarrassed just sitting in the car by myself let alone if anyone else had to see it. But I was sick and didn’t have the energy or the desire to fix the problem, to clean it out. So, I ignored the mountain of water bottles and magazines and books and more and just harbored by discomfort because even though it made me sort of miserable it was easier to drive the false facade around than solving the problem, easier than taking the time to clean up the mess inside.

When my ear was a bit of a disaster, I knew there was a surgery that could fix it but it terrified me, so I did everything else instead. I tried every treatment available except the one that would be nearly guaranteed to work. Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Essential Oils, Physical Therapy, TMJ Treatments, and more. All desperate measures to avoid the one definite fix. Why would I procrastinate when help was available? Who knows, really? I could tell you it was because of the cost of the surgery or that it was so close to my brain that it scared me, but the truth is that neither of those is the real answer. I was somehow simply resigned to being miserable and blinded myself to the solution.

I think we do this all the time in various ways. We table our issues, our anxieties, our concerns and just learn to live with them, rather than really dealing with them, rather than taking the steps to actually cope with them. We are willing to accept the false feelings of ease rather than work to uncover what might be a thorny path to healing, recovery, rest or health. Forgetting all the while that though the thorns may sting and intensify the misery in the short term, they are also necessary points along the way to healing…to a clearer path…to the river of rebirth that allows us to cleanse ourselves of whatever ails us.

When I put those glasses on my face and I looked down at my phone screen today to see if they really helped, I was entirely astonished at the clarity and precision of the words on the screen. I had not realized just how blurry things had gotten until a new lens, a new perspective allowed me to see the truth of the matter. And I sat there for a minute just wondering what on earth took me so long and how many more times will I fall prey to the laziness of accepting unnecessary discomfort…

“Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson

(Day 13–exhausted from a very long week, but still found a moment to knock this one out. Not my most careful writing, but happy to have it done).