Monday, March 30, 2009

The Edge of April

I haven’t been much of a cheerleader lately. My capacity to look on the bright side, cheer someone up, even offer a few words of encouragement has been just about wholly depleted. Winter is always tough here, and this winter was worse than usual. I found out, just a few days before Christmas (the worst gift ever) that my job was in jeopardy; several friends have been enduringly and scarily ill; my partner underwent surgery and toughed out a long recuperation; and, well, that was enough.

It seemed, in my mind, that all of these things coincided with challenges in the world outside the scope of my little world as well. The chaos in the economy, in particular, has underscored my personal uncertainty and fear in a way that has been hard for me to endure. The resultant stress knocked me for a loop in February, followed by a worrisome couple of weeks focused uncomfortably on my own health. It turned out, after a batch of tests, that I’m “perfectly normal.” More on that dull but welcome assessment later.

What has helped me through the winter has been a love for my job which, despite its precarious state, is a good one. It’s true that I’m underpaid and underappreciated by the powers-that-be, but I have 60 creative, fun, surprising, quirky, intelligent, unique students that never fail to hold my interest during class, never fail to challenge me in comical or legitimate ways, never fail to leave me, at the end of the day, exhausted but fulfilled. Two of my three classes are full of seniors, and I’ve watched them over the last few weeks as they begin to fully acknowledge the end of their college careers. They are excited. And they are scared.

My students feel unprepared for the world that awaits them. They attribute this to the news, to the unrelenting stream of depressing realities broadcast on television, reported in the newspaper, rumored about on Facebook, and displayed in the eyes of their parents and their professors. I want to tell them that every senior class before them has experienced similar fears. But maybe we all want to believe that our situations are unique, that we feel what we feel in ways that are just slightly more enhanced, more acute, more intense, more immediate and, frankly, more important than what anyone else feels. We are all, for a time, as sensitive as poets. One component of wisdom, I think, is learning the falsity of that belief.

The other thing that has helped me through this stretch is simply the world outside my window. The gorgeous trees, thousands of them; the constancy of the skies; the visitations by crows and hawks and robins and the breathtaking streaking red cardinals. I watched the lake as it changed from frozen plateau back to white-capped waves, and studied the snow, which so often is a burden here, but also, so often, is almost beyond description in its ethereal beauty.

It’s perfectly normal to feel overburdened, overwhelmed; it’s normal to be afraid and to wish that circumstances were different, were better. It’s normal to want to trade in this life for some other version of life, one where all our friends were healthy and upbeat, where our studies came to us easily and felt relevant and consistently stimulating, where we knew that two months down the road we’d be financially secure, intellectually fulfilled, and just flat-out happy.

I’m not that cheerleader who can push the facts aside and say hey! That better life is coming! It’s just around the corner! Have faith! But sometimes, in my own quiet corner of the world, I wish that somebody would say, in passing, don’t worry. I want to hear someone say it’ll get better. It’s gonna be alright. I might not even believe the words… but I can’t deny that I want to hear them.

Outside the kitchen, in the back yard, a few patches of crocuses are bearing up nicely under a late spring snow shower. They’re the same flowers that missed being crushed by a dump truck full of wood a few days ago. I don’t know, for sure, if they’ll survive a further dip in our temperatures, but if I have any faith at all, it’s that they will. Everything changes, and everything passes. That’s scary, true. But there is hope in there as well.

It’s normal to want to hear that better days are ahead. It’s perfectly normal to want to slide back under the covers and sleep through the snowfall, sleep through the quiz, ignore the phone, skip class, blink our eyes and magically wake up in a sunnier version of this world. But I’m going to watch the crocuses curl around themselves and live. I’m going to laugh at my students’ jokes and tell them, when I can, that they’re going to be okay. And if nobody’s around to say it, I’m going to chant, like a mantra, in my own tired and perfectly normal brain, that better days are coming.


  1. Am so glad to see the crocuses are truly thriving and this could be considered a 'sign' for you as well that all will be all right. I've always believed that everything happens for the best, even when you can't see it right away. The love and passion you have for your students and teaching will carry you through to the next step, whatever that will be.

  2. Little things have more power than the grand, awful moments that like to knock us sideways. It's amazing how the color of a flower, the song of peeper frogs, or an afternoon filled with laughter can erase what feels like an eternity of misfortune. Hold onto the little things. They keep you connected to good people and to the beautiful side of the world. Everything will be okay.