It has felt as though my voice has gone quiet, that there is just heavy silence where my soul is. Heavy, exhausted silence. Many often wonder at the silence of God. I wonder at my own silence. I am on auto-pilot. When I respond enthusiastically in a conversation or to a request, part of me is standing back, staring in awe and often shock at this person who is just continuing on with life. Or at least it’s the part of me that best knows, ostensibly, how to play this game called life. The other part of me, though, what feels like most of me, is silent.
I want to speak. I want to write. I want to have conversation. I want to laugh. I want to be silly. I miss all these things, deeply and dearly. Yet I struggle. When I do engage in them, except with my closest of people, I feel that emotional separation again. As though I’m sending a social golem out with my voice while the real me stays back in silence.
I know my voice is still here. I hear it every day. I hear it in the words I say and the encouragements that I give to my students. I hear it in my FB and IG posts and in my message to friends to check up on them, I hear it in the cards and letters that I tuck into the mailbox. Using my voice for others feels like the easy job, a performance and practice that I know well enough to make it muscle-memory, strange as that might sound. Using it myself, for what I love, for what I want…that feels infinitely harder.
How do I coax my voice back out? Not just for others but for myself? I want to get back to using my voice for me, too. Not just for God and for others, but also for myself. To ask for what I need, say what I want, speak truth without fear.
My voice can be a thing of beauty, of power, of gentleness, and abject love and grace. I want to find it and the courage to use it again. Not just for others but also for myself. Because I deserve all that, too.
How do I do that again? Am I doing it right now? I honestly don’t know. But I am going to try.
There are days when I look in the mirror and I am troubled by what I see, or, rather, by what I feel at what I see. My skin is the color of Cadbury’s milk chocolate where the sun hits it regularly; the skin hidden under my clothing is more caramel, though it looks like cafe au lait next to my arm. My daughter, when she was little, would pretend that I was chocolate and she was going to gobble me up. It has hit home for me, though–harder in recent years–that I have never felt “black enough”.
When I was little, I was teased by kids at school for my celebrity crushes: boys like Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement”) and Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys). I was told that I wished I were white, the idea voiced for me as though it were a pronouncement handed down from the mount. I was thin as a rail growing up; I didn’t have a body built for curves until almost 30 years later. I have been relaxing my hair since I was twelve and have worn it this way for now twice as long as I had it natural. I like it, but, sometimes, I can keenly feel the lack of my “blackness” because I don’t proudly wear my hair natural and free or intricately, traditionally, or boldly styled. In my first classroom as a full-time teacher, I had several black students who were, as I overheard, quite excited to have a black teacher. The disappointment and even confusion on their face when I opened my mouth and started speaking, was starkly visible to me even though they may not have realized it. I can only hope it didn’t stick.
When “Black Panther” first came out, I scrolled through the joyous pictures of people attending screenings and premiers in all their traditional African finery. It was amazing and beautiful and triumphant. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I beheld their glory and felt the worm in my heart that whispered, “This is not for me. I have no place here.”
I am a brown-skinned, American-born, full-blooded Caribbean woman from a melting-pot island where I never felt black enough for many of the people around me. Now I live in a place that demands the necessary acknowledgement that black lives matter. (Spoiler alert: we do!) But, again, that worm in the apple in there:
“None of this is for me, or maybe I am not for it. I’m not black enough for this to be for me.”
My curves don’t shine like midnight or my skin glow like dawn. My hair doesn’t surround me in a crown of ombre curls or fall like watered black silk over my shoulders. I haven’t had to power through discrimination and prejudice in my higher education or workplace world (at least not consciously or overtly) in order to be successful. I have lived the most privileged of lives of color, for which I am immensely grateful. In other words, however, I haven’t had to fight for every inch like so many have been forced to do.
There are days when I half-wish that I had no color to feel less than, days that I just don’t feel black enough for any of this black girl magic to belong to me.
But then my daughter says, upon hearing the book Brown Boy Joy read on Netflix’s Bookmarks series, “I wish there was a brown girl joy.”
And so I put my queen-mom heels on and trot out Black Girl Magic Sprinkles (Chaunetta Anderson and Trinity L. Anderson), Honeysmoke (Monique Fields), and Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o) for my little mixed beauty. My little girl who calls her summery skin “tan”. My little girl who needs to know that all the magic is hers, all the dreams are hers for the taking. She wants to build robots and go to Mars. I want her to build the robots and rockets that will go and then accompany them to Mars.
I want my girl to work and strive and do her best and achieve all the amazing dreams she has. I am doing my best to teach her openness and love, that hard work is nothing to be feared, and that there is always something to be learned, ways in which we can be better. As Princess Shuri (the officially most brilliant mind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) admonished her kingly brother T’Challa, “How many times do I have to teach you? Just because something works, that does not mean it cannot be improved.”
I want my daughter to tap into her magic every day, to feel it in every way! I will nurture and defend her black girl magic and her right to it until my dying breath.
I may not feel black enough for my own magic, but I damn sure have enough for my daughter and any other black, brown, or mixed kiddo who may walk through my door. I will fight tooth and nail for their magic even though and while I may be iffy about my own. It’s complicated and called being human, I guess.
It has felt good getting my body back into a habit of exercising each morning before beginning my day. I have now gotten back to the point where I feel off without it, which is a routine that I have honestly missed quite a bit. But my daily exercise and extra workouts are not the reason I am feeling thinner lately. No, the “thinner” I am feeling is an emotional and mental thinness.
At the end of his time as a Ring-bearer, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins described himself as feeling “thin…like butter scraped over too much bread”. It was a feeling of not having enough of himself anymore for life, for…anything, really. It has been over a month at home, closeted with husband and daughter, and it feels as though it gets a bit harder with each week, in which I am sure I am not alone. Rest is, ironically, proving hard to come by, and I have felt my optimism flag. Anxiety is manifesting as weariness, irritability, and overwhelm; some days, it is hard for me to recognize myself as myself. I feel poured out…worn thin.
I miss me. This thought came as a shock even as I wrote the words. I do. I miss me. I miss believing the optimism and encouragement that I pour out for others. I know it is true, but I miss believing it as much for myself as I do for other people. The tap is always on, always running, always pouring out. And yet…it feels as though if I turn it off, the very foundations of my life will shudder.
Earlier this week, my daughter’s teacher posted a very sweet permission for us parents not to be the perfect teachers to our children during this time. Encouraging us to tend to our little ones’ hearts and souls and to worry less about their academic achievements. As a teacher myself, I admit that I am having the hardest time managing my 1st grader’s Reading, Math, and Science lessons along with everything I am doing for my own 8th grade classes and students. And I have felt very much thinner and the less for that this week especially.
I have felt less for sleeping in a bit in the mornings and then not being able to fit in my workout and all of kiddo’s schoolwork before my class, office hours, or a meeting start. Less for not managing my day down to the minute to accommodate everything and taking a luxury (rest) that I apparently cannot afford. Thinner.
I am not God. Allow me to say that again, for my own benefit. I am not God. And yet I am holding on to everything so very tightly, you’d believe that I must have some cosmic responsibility for everything that is happening. But I don’t, nor do I want to.
I know what I WANT.
I WANT to spend meaningful time with my daughter that doesn’t involve some kind of fight or tantrum or fit.
I WANT to rest, to allow myself to take time for quiet, stillness. I WANT to tell my family to take care of themselves for a while and engage in some hygge without guilt.
I WANT to delve into my relationship with God, to grow and deepen in my faith during this time.
I WANT to read, to engage my imagination and intelligence, to tumble headlong into stories and wisdom and stimulating ideas.
What I AM is flustered, rushed, overworked.
What I AM is irritable and overwhelmed almost from the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning.
What I AM is poured out and depleted but with no idea of just how to say that (though I guess I just did).
What I NEED is soothing for which I do not have to work.
What I NEED is a break for which I do not feel guilty afterward.
What I NEED is to be filled up.
What I NEED is to be poured into, but we are all perhaps a bit short on that, aren’t we?
We are all in the midst of something that we do not know how to do. We are all in the midst of stress, weariness, worry, and even fear. You may be right here, too, Dear Reader, in this place of thinness, of emotional/mental scarcity. You may not have much to pour out today or this week. That is okay. If permission is what you need, then here I am to give it to you. From one “thin” person to another, it is okay. You are allowed to do just what you can.
If all you can handle with the kids is one subject lesson, then this teacher is giving you permission to let that be enough.
If all you can handle this Sunday is personal devotions and not a full-fledged Sunday School lesson with the family, then you have this pastor’s wife’s encouragement to stay in your bedroom with the door closed.
If you are home and to the point of wanting to defenestrate your dear ones, then this mom and wife begs you to take a walk (carefully, of course), a bath, shut the kids in the backyard, do something for yourself even if it is a “corrected” coffee in your bathroom at 11am.
If you are leaving the house every day to walk into an uncertain world, you absolutely have this human’s blessing to cry in your car.
We all need a place where our emotions are welcome, and yours are welcome here, Dear Readers. Always.
It has been two weeks now. Two weeks of social distancing; two weeks of aloneness or very limited contact; two weeks of staying at least six feet away from anyone who does not currently occupy our homes with us. Two weeks and things are getting harder. Harder to deal with, harder to fathom, harder to grasp hold of in a way we can understand. I am hearing from friends who own small businesses and are having to let go of staff, people they care about very deeply. Friends who are considered essential workers are heading out every day and so are in a constant state of anxiety and worry about their health and the health of the loved ones they interact with. Friends whose jobs have been shut down or let go are struggling and in fear. Things are hard. As a dearest dear one put it, it feels like we have been running on adrenaline for the last two weeks and now reality is crashing in. I miss my people I am worrying about them, fearing for them in some cases. I miss my normal. I miss taking my daughter out for sushi. I miss going to the movies or walking the mall with my husband. I miss falling into the arms of my closest friends. This is hard.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to feel when things are hard. I am tempted to remind myself that I have it so much better than others perhaps do. This is not affecting my paycheck or my husband’s as we are able to work from home. We are healthy, have enough for our needs and then some, and are together. I have nothing to complain about, I am tempted to scold myself. But why? Why should I scold myself? Why should you shame yourself? What is our crime? Being human and grieving all this hard right now? Why are we tempted to compare our pain, our hard with someone else’s? Yes, there are people in worse situations than I am, and this is hard for them. However, that does not diminish the space I need to hold for myself and that you should hold for yourself, too. We need to feel and grieve this hard. I need to. I need to let myself admit that things are hard right now, because they are.
Let’s set down the shame, dear ones. Set down the expectation that we should be able to handle this. No one is handling this well, never mind handling at all. These are times for which no one was prepared; these are circumstances for which no one was ready—physically, mentally, financially, emotionally. We do not need to be the one with the answers, because we are not. We cannot expect ourselves to be the ones who fix this, because we are not. What we can do in this moment is admit that this is all incredibly, immensely hard. We can grieve the losses in our lives, whatever they may be. We can allow ourselves to be beautifully, brokenly human.
For me, the hardest thing right now is the unfathomableness of all this, the not knowing. I have no end to work towards or, at least, not an end that I can see. We canceled a spring break trip we had planned for our daughter. A concert Ben and I have been looking forward to for years is postponed with no idea of when it will be rescheduled. A belly dance workshop with a favorite dancer/teacher planned for my birthday weekend is postponed until next year. My mother cannot come to visit us for Easter. I cannot go visit a friend as I had planned. My weekly dinners with another cannot happen right now. My daughter cannot play with her best friend.
This. Is. Hard. It is, dear Readers, and we are allowed to feel and grieve that hard. Right now, we are in perhaps some of the softest spaces to emotionally land that we probably could ever be. We can be soft, too. I know it’s hard, believe me, fighting the shame. We are together in that, though we may be separated into our own spaces. Still, my little corner of the online world is a soft place for you to land. What is your hard today? What is your grief? You are safe and welcome to share those here. I see you. I hear you. There is space for you here.
Can I be really-real for a second? Just for a little bit, Dear Readers? I hope that is okay. It’s been…12 (13?) days since my little family and I have been sequestered at home amidst this crisis, and I realized–or rather admitted–something rather important. In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, a friend shared a Facebook post by Revelatori, which consisted of ten gorgeous images that hit me like a Mack truck.
The truth of these images, of this beautiful vulnerability was almost too much for me to take for a moment.
I am not coping as well as I would like to be, dear ones. I am unable to rest and relax during the day; I am constantly looking for something to do or scolding myself because, “with all this extra time and so many things to be done/cleaned/arranged/tidied, I should be doing SOMETHING!” Whether that is curriculum work, grading eLearning assignments, guiding my daughter through her lessons or helping her with an art project, exercising, or doing household chores and projects, my body feels like it needs to be in a constant state of work. Not movement. Work. So much so that when I am not, I feel guilty and lazy and I start looking for something to work on.
I am constantly on alert throughout the day for state and national (even international) press conferences and the like, watching the news on TV or listening to it on NPR & IPR. It’s as though I am afraid of missing something direly important, even though my common sense (along with other wise sources) tells me that such saturation is not good for my mental and emotional health. I absolutely agree with that, but I find I am inundated by noise: the noise of the news, the noise of family in close quarters, the noise of play and games and music, and my own attempts to drown them out at times.
An effect of all that noise, however, is that silence has become almost deafening, even when I crave both it and stillness so deeply. The latter feels almost impossible, as though my body and mind are trained to live at my daughter’s energetic pace. But even she slows down, even she rests. At the very moment I was writing this, I could hear her up in her room, cozy and chill on her bed, indulging in a favorite cartoon on her Kindle for a little while. I, meanwhile, struggle to rest and now grapple for that hygge spirit that I began the year working so hard to cultivate.
I am doing good things in all of this, yes. I am writing what I feel I am led and need to write in this season of life–a work of love, support, safety, and encouragement that comes straight from my heart. I am extending myself to my friends, my dear ones, my colleagues, my students as best I can, so they know that they are not alone in all this. I don’t want us to be isolated while we are separated. This is all hard enough. So, yes, I am doing good things. I might seem calm, cool, and collected, but I am still not coping as well as would like.
Last night, as he tucked me into bed, I admitted to Ben that it all just feels unfathomable as to when it will end and where we will be when it does end. Not monetarily but as a country, as a society, as people, as a species. I cried as I admitted what often feels like a bottomless feeling. He encouraged me, of course, like the good man he is. He didn’t dismiss my fears but he reminded me of where we look for strength, that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). He also reminded me that I am not alone in this, none of us are. We are all together, whether we are so physically or not.
No, I am not coping as well as I would like, but I am coping. My beloved Marmee, bless her, reminds me every day that I need to rest, that it is necessary. She is right, of course. I have forced–yes, forced–myself to do so several times this week, putting aside what I think I need to do in favor of curling up on the couch in the afternoon sun a few times or taking a long, hot, lavender-suffused bath. I am coping, not as well as I might like, but I am. And I know you are coping in your ways, too. You may not be doing so as well as you would like either, but you are coping, Friend. Don’t dismiss that, you are coping. We can cope together, hold each other, support each other.
Thank you, Relevatori, for your beautiful vulnerability and stunningly heart-full reminder.
This is what grief looks like. It looks like abandoning today’s carefully-laid-out page in your planner in favor of a couch and a blanket. It looks like wanting to do nothing but sleep all day long. It looks like not being ready to tell almost anyone what has happened yet, because that will make it undeniably true.
This is what grief looks like. It looks like pulling yourself up and pushing through with at least that one errand that simply must be completed today. It looks like continuing with business as usual because things must get done, and who else is going to do them?
Grief looks like silence, of not knowing
what to think or how to feel, of being unsure of what to do next. It looks like
not knowing what to say to someone else whose loss feels so much deeper than
yours. It looks like talking to a friend for a long while yet finding yourself
unable to tell them what you’re going through. It looks like crumbling into
tears when unconditional kindness and help are offered by someone who does know.
My maternal grandmother died on Monday evening. It was not unexpected but that does not make it any easier, I am finding. She has been saying, “Not today,” to death for years now, and, in a way, that makes it harder. There are other things that make it harder, too, but those are neither here nor there.
This is what grief looks like. It is strange. I feel strange. I do not know how to do this.
I do not often like to write about the hard stuff when I am in the middle of it. I feel too close, too rattled, too raw. But, often, that is when I am at my most honest, just as I am sure it is for you. Part of the work of Christmas within me, I believe, is that very honesty. I am apt, often, to sweep my own difficulty under the rug, or at least shove it out of sight. But that isn’t truthful, honest, and I want to be honest.
These past month has been stressful, as in ridiculously stressful; stressful enough to throw off my body’s clock and rhythms. I won’t downplay how it has felt. I have collapsed into weeping several times—on my classroom floor, in my car in the grocery store parking lot, on the phone with my husband after a failed trip to the BMV.
Alone in those moments, I cried out to God. I begged and pleaded, “I need a miracle!” I wanted to ask God to make it all better. I just wanted a new car to show up in my driveway (or at least one without a myriad of problems that need constant fixing) or for a windfall of money to solve all the issues. Instead, though, a completely different thought floated into my mind and out my mouth.
“Please, God, be my meal and oil.”
Meal and oil? Where did that come from?
In the Old Testament story of Elijah, it tells of his experience staying with a widow and her child. When Elijah asked her for some water to drink and bread to eat, she warned him that she only had a little meal (flour) and oil left. Enough to make a small cake for herself and her son, and then they were going to wait to die. But she took the little that she had and began to cook. In the end, she fed God’s prophet and herself and her son with it! Lo and behold, the next day, there was more! Not much more but enough more.
I have not thought about that particular Bible story in many years, but I remember being struck by it even as a child. So I have found myself repeatedly praying for God to be my meal and oil—to hold our cars together just one more day, to give me enough grace to deal with my students today.
Sometimes, day by day is what I need. I know me: I would look ahead into a year’s worth of tomorrows if I could, just to make sure everything would indeed work out. Not necessarily as I hope but just work out at all. So, for now, perhaps this is the best for me, the best that I can do: expect the best that God can do. Expect him to give me what I need daily, as I learned to pray as a kid. “Give us this day our daily bread…”
Author’s Note: This has been written as a model essay for my students and the personal narrative essay they will be writing this week.
The Prompt: Describe a time when you have helped someone else or a time when someone else has helped you, how you feel about it, and how that situation has affected/impacted you and your life.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
I never thought the moment would come when I could possibly hold someone’s life in my hands. However, one autumn night in Brown County, Indiana, it did. One hardly thinks that the phone is going to ring in the middle of the night and one of your best friends will be on the other end of the line, her phone in one hand, and purportedly, a razor in the other. It only takes a moment for you to realize just how hard you will fight to help someone stay.
Several years ago, I was down in Brown County attending a Smekens (Reading and Literacy) retreat with two or three other teachers from Yorktown Middle School. The day’s workshops were over, and the 8th grade Social Studies teacher and I were relaxing in our hotel room, winding down and readying ourselves for sleep. It was late, past nine o’clock, when my cell phone rang. Picking it up, I saw my friend *Katherine’s name on the caller ID. I answered immediately, asking her what was up. It was unusual for her to call me on the phone; we usually spoke via Facebook messenger or Skype ever since she had finished college at Ball State University and moved back home to Ohio. I am not a phone-talker, not usually. I tend to prefer either text or face-to-face conversations. My friends know this so when one of them chooses to call me, I have no doubt that it’s likely important. This was.
When Katherine spoke, her voice was shaky, and I could tell she was crying. Through her muddled and muddied words, I was able to figure out that she was sitting alone in her bedroom, contemplating ending her life. Immediately, I jumped to my feet and walked out of my hotel room, searching for somewhere to have this private—and increasingly, critically important–conversation. Finally, I settled on a bench on the porch in front of the hotel complex, as it was deserted this late. Sitting there on that bench in the evening cool, I listened to my friend pour out her aching heart and soul and in return offered her my own, breaking itself at the thought of losing her. She had been through quite a great deal in the past few years. Her childhood had been tumultuous, with lots of ups and downs, biological and foster families involved. After that Katherine had gone through several difficult relationships, a hard breakup before she’d finished college, and then had moved back home to find setting up life as an adult to be far more challenging than she had anticipated. It was all extremely heavy and weighing on her. I had walked alongside her through the college breakup and her fear that, afterward, our circle of friends would discard her because “we had been friends with him first”. That time, too, I had sat outside on the phone with her and reassured her that I understood her fears. I was the “outsider” in the friend circle, too, and I had worried about just the same things if my relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-husband had ever gone sideways. Would I be ostracized? Would I lose the only close friends I had in this part of Indiana? And, unfortunately, she did lose some of those friends, as did we. They chose to “side” with him and, in his mind, if we weren’t with him, we were against him. It was sad and hard, losing friends always is. Now I listened to her pour out a new set of burdens that had been placed on her already loaded-down and bowed back.
I sat there in the deepening darkness of that porch and the darkness that she undoubtedly faced in her bedroom, and I listened and cried. I reassured her that she was indeed loved, that, no, she was not a burden on anyone, and that I would miss her terribly if she left. Never once did I tell her that she was being selfish or cowardly. Those were not words that she needed to hear, nor were they in any way true. No, what my friend needed then was reasons to stay. Reasons to put that razor down, reasons to let her heart keep beating and her lungs keep breathing. She needed reasons to stay alive, so I did my best to give her reason after reason that I could think of. I don’t remember how long we sat there on the phone together or what all I actually said, but, eventually, the tears slowed, the words cleared, and she let out a huge breath. It was the kind of breath you exhale when you’ve just put down something very heavy. She was going to stay. I exhaled, too, and told her how much I loved her again and again. She was going to stay.
Today, I am absolutely elated to report that Katherine is doing well. She sought out and received the help that she needed, she found and built a new, healthy relationship, has found stability, and is now healthy, happy, hearty, and whole. I am unbelievably proud of her and so very happy for the beautiful thing her life has become. Until that night, suicide was just something I had heard of. It was just another statistic, something far removed, second-hand stories that I knew to be true because friends had had friends who had attempted or succeeded. This moment brought it home to me, made it absolutely, extremely, frighteningly real, and I think it changed something in my heart and soul. Ever since then, I have worked very hard to make myself and the spaces I inhabit (my home, my Facebook page, my classroom, etc.) a place where people can feel safe. Safe enough to share their feelings, their joys, and their struggles. I want to be a person and a place where people know they aren’t going to be judged because they are having a difficult time; they aren’t going to be called lazy or cowardly or selfish or weak. I read, donate, and participate in groups and projects such as To Write Love on Her Arms and The World Needs More Love Letters. I want to hold space for others to be able to be themselves, whatever that means for them in that moment, and, with any luck, give them some encouragement, a prayer, a bit of love, and some hope. Hope that they can take the next breath. Hope that they can take the next step. Hope that they can face another day. I want to do my best to be a place where people can come and, hopefully, find that they want to stay.
I don’t really know how to begin here. I want something pithy, such as “When The Start Feels Too Much Like a Start”, but, at the same time, it feels like I would be trivializing what I want to talk about. And I’m too tired for trivial. (Case in Point: I started writing this blog post two weeks ago.)
Today marks fourteen days into the new school year, and I am utterly exhausted. It feels as though there never was a break between May and now. I just blinked, that’s all. The students are just about done honeymooning. I’m pouring out energy on top of energy as I have worked to figure out my daughter’s school arrangements, too. I’m already losing control of the cleanliness of the house (and, as I drafted this two weeks ago, I realized that I had forgotten to leave a note for my husband to turn over the laundry when he got up!). Life is busier than ever.
On the first day of students’ return, as I prayed before slipping out of bed to start the day, I found myself requesting something quite unexpected.
“Lord, if you have something else for me, please start preparing me for it.”
Now I say that this is unexpected, not because I haven’t wanted to do something other than teaching, because I have definitely thought about it, but because I honestly am unsure of just what that “something else” would be. I’ve said this since the beginning: teaching was ever the only plan. There was never a Plan B. So, if God does indeed have something else in mind for me, it begs the question of what exactly it could be.
Here are some truths:
I am good at teaching. I am. I am knowledgeable, and I do a good job at passing that knowledge along in an understandable way to my students.
I cannot remember a Sunday night when I was excited about going to work the next day and only a handful of days in the past nine years that I ever felt so about coming to school. I don’t necessarily joy in it like some teachers do. It takes a lot.
I do enjoy emotional education. Those are the lessons and discussions that I find my heart pouring out in: teaching students to be empathetic, show love, have courage, and be kind.
Part of me aches to do something else, something new, but, at the same time, the idea of such change and upheaval is profoundly frightening and stressful. But I will keep on praying this prayer, and I hope that I am not just being a stubborn Jonah.
As I pointed out earlier this year, I am not good at taking “just the next step”. My brain is a mess and machination of often-escalating worries, what-ifs, and contingency plans. Recently, however, I was forced—yes, I do mean forced—to take a single step at a time through what was, for me, quite a crisis. Did I like it? No. Did I enjoy being reminded my dearly-beloved husband that I needed to single-step? Not really. Did I even want to take those single steps? No, not really again. I was hoping against hope that it would just resolve itself but, like a myriad of problems in life, it just doesn’t work that way. Did my brain run away with me with the withertos, whyfores, and what-ifs? Oh, my heavens, YES!
But I had no choice. I could only take the next step in the process in order to be sure of anything at that point. I had to take it step by step. Instead of me running 100 steps ahead, I was forced to only take a single step at a time. And, while nerve-wracking, everything turned out fine. In fact, something extra good that I was hoping to accomplish was able to get started out of the whole affair. In the end, I find myself somewhat thankful for it all.
As the summer begins its exit, stage right, all too quickly and I can see the school year bouncing on the balls of its feet in the wings, I am again facing a situation where I will need—probably with copious reminders—to take just the next step. There are many changes that will come with this school year. I will have my largest 8th grade class yet (between 160 and 170 students, and I teach all of them); we have a new principal of our school; and I am implementing curriculum changes that, while I think they will be good, will take some serious getting used to and will likely be far from perfect for this year. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I scared even? Yes. I am nervous and scared at the beginning of every school year. 100+ new faces, 100+ new names to place with them, curriculum to implement, adjust, and differentiate for varying skill levels.
Yes, I am always nervous before school begins. But I can’t take all the steps at once there either, can I? I am forced to take one step at a time. One day at a time. Now that my curriculum is done and approved and I have finished gathering supplies for my classroom, I can focus on my next steps: class syllabus and About Me presentation for the first day of school. One step at a time.
As you move through today, through this weekend and the coming week, don’t be afraid of just the next step. I know it’s maddening. I know it’s nerve-wracking. But it will be okay, dear one. Even when it feels like it may not, it will be. Just take one step at a time. That’s all you can take. It’s all you can do. But it is everything.