One of the hardest things about teaching is the acting.
When you have a weekend, or even just a night, where certain situations push you to emotional exhaustion, or even go so far as changing you, putting an eternal dent in your identity. And then, you suddenly find yourself sitting in front of a class, wondering how to bring the pieces of your mind together. How to convince them that you’re okay when a rush of thoughts are occurring in your head, and your heart sinks into your chest. When you have to remain in the present for them, but the sensation of falling is pulling you back towards stagnation. Grief weighs the most when you stop.
The smell of sweet maple syrup brushes my nostrils. A molasses-like sip of coffee touches my lips. I am staring out from my screened-in porch at a towering Live Oak who’s Spanish moss drapes like a spontaneous work of modern art.
In the background, Ray Charles is banging on the piano. Cardinals flirt with the introduction to spring.”Y’all” twangs off the tongues of people below me.
And I am home, mostly. Back in the south, near nature and the people I love.
A couple of years ago, my view couldn’t have been more different. And while I miss D.C. in many ways, there are things that validated the choices that led me here, as well as the choices I made for my future. But, there are also experiences and emotions that have validated my choice to live there.
When I lived in D.C., a step onto my balcony would amplify the sound of sirens. With a wipe of my finger, I could remove the soot that settled on my plants from the cars below. My view across the street was a busy hospital. My nostrils flared at the smell of car exhaust and rubber.
It’s 7 a.m. and the wheels of my brain are already in spin, its synapses engaged with one of the Great Courses audiobooks from Audible.
In graduate school, the mornings became my haven of thought and research. Gone were my college all-nighters–filled with a glass of wine for inspiration and the double shots of espresso and writing until I got kicked out of the local coffee shop; after which, I would go back to my apartment and sit at my desk, surrounded by notes from my roommates: that I should go to sleep and cease the habit of housing four different types of liquids on my desk (normally water, coffee, tea, and diet coke).
The me of the present, who now shuts down mentally at 10 p.m., questions how any of that was possible; but, it does not deny the credibility of memories backed by my lovely and brutally honest college roommates who dislike the name Peter, know that a Mike Tyson can also be George Forman, and question my love of succulents.
As a teacher, there are always little flashes of light.
Iridescent glimmers after long hours of digging. Dirt under your nails. Grit in your teeth. A rasp in your breath as you are suddenly able to inhale, with clarity in your lungs, a purpose. The scent of rain after a long drought… the kind that lingers in the air and forms steam off asphalt. That makes wilted plants perk up. It makes the waiting worth it.
The thought of hope made tangible is an addiction worth giving into.
And then there is, of course, the sudden fade to black and dust that I often lose myself in. Blinded by bureaucracy and unrelenting tasks. Suffocated by the lack of positivity. The pile of a to do list that hopelessly grows in the face of the illogical. When you are constantly assessing what you need to do, you begin to wonder if you will ever have time to be yourself again. How can you when your day often stretches beyond the uncomfortable limit of ten hours? The weight of students is often combined with the weight of leaving a personal life behind –writing, riding, gardening, adventuring, loved ones. They tug at each other. But you need both.
It all started with a brochure that my sister’s friend Judy gave me years ago: the Trans-Wales Trail. A horseback riding trek that would make any Tolkien fangirl weak at the knees. Open spaces. Dragon’s land. Riding a noble beast across a country. We discussed our ideas and goals of doing it one summer. Why would we not do it?
I was in high school with little money and poor decision-making skills. In order to not get my hopes up, my incredulous self set the brochure and idea aside, but I was forever unable to escape the dream of riding a horse through a limitless landscape.
Years later, here I am. Writing tid-bits on trains headed to my adventure and present reflections at a table in my sunroom. A strange form of time travel connecting past and present. I didn’t really explain what this adventure was all about in the first place, and it would be a lie to say it was largely born as a journey of self-exploration, (though it certainly became one). It was to fulfill that dream instilled within me by a brochure. To achieve what my imagination had been incessantly clawing at for years.
I’m struggling to keep my eyes open on my train back to London, in some state of limbo, trying to reflect on the last two weeks. Even after enduring the sleep of the dead the previous night, my body had to fight the fervent, eager, desire for more.
I’m in a mammoth cathedral whose halls dwarf any concept of modern architecture, or some holy space, listening to Gregorian chants and choirs singing: men, women, children. I can see their faces up close with such intimacy and detail–the large pouched cheeks of an Italian man, his throat puffing out like a frog, producing the deep tones of an alto. A small child, harmonizing perfectly with him. It is a place, regardless of religious background, that one is in awe. One can forgive the problems and corruption of organized religion and find the goodness and purpose in faith or spirituality.