"I grow old... I grow old..." But I Refuse to Wear My Trousers Rolled
First of all, it's my birthday. THIRTY. NINE. This body might be on the brink of forty, but my heart still feels like it's twenty-two. No, make that twenty-seven (sorry, Taylor Swift).
My brain is starting its shift into school gear as I embark on my seventeenth year as an educator. SEVENTEEN. YEARS. It overwhelms and humbles me to think about all of the lives that have intersected with mine--to think about all of the students I have had the privilege of teaching--to think of all the people who have left an imprint on my heart.
These are the thoughts banging around in my brain and hugging my heart tonight. Since I am an English teacher at heart, a poem pops in my head--one of my all-time faves--as a way to connect the dots:
The poem is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot (if you want to take a trip back in time to your high school English days, then you can read the poem here). Yep, thinking about poetry on my birthday--I know how to party.
That Prufrock is a tricky dude; he is elusive, and that's why I love him. Every time I read this poem, the meaning changes. Honestly, I still don't know if I really "GET IT," but I think Eliot would take some pleasure in that--maybe that's the whole point of Prufrock. Maybe he doesn't want us to get him at all.
One line stands out..."I have measured out my life with coffee spoons..." Even though I start each morning with two cups of coffee, I realize that I measure my life in other ways; it's what I do to hold myself accountable in my writing, reading, and running life. I have word-counted my way through the Summer; I use my Nike Running app to keep track of the number of miles I run/walk; Goodreads keeps track of the books that I read. I have become obsessed with this whole "keeping track" business because I think if it can't be counted then it doesn't count. I'm measuring out my life in words and miles and books. And maybe it's a bad habit because I might find myself counting down the days until there will no longer be any days left to count...
Writing, reading, running--they keep away the crazy, and counting--that helps, too.
The truth is that I teeter on the edge of the abyss, and I take some solace in knowing that we all do. I curl my toes to brace myself as I peer over and look down into the darkness of everything that I fear. And I write, read, and run to keep me from falling off the edge.
Don't we all balance on the edge of crazy? Isn't that the tie that binds us all? That and birthdays? But the truth is that some of us can't help but fall into the abyss. Depression is a disease that requires medical attention just like any other, and it saddens me that there is a stigma associated with this VERY real medical condition. I have struggled with depression and anxiety, and let me tell you--it will pull you under like nothing you've ever known. I am thankful for finding solace in writing, reading, and running. Hopefully, Robin Williams' tragic death has opened our eyes to the fact that it doesn't matter how much money a person makes; it doesn't matter how funny a person's jokes are; it doesn't matter how famous someone is: We are all human. We all struggle. We all bleed. We all feel pain. And some of us are really hurting.
Why is it so hard for us to remember this? Why are we shocked when a person who seems to have it all together reveals that they really don't? Why is our society so quick to judgement and ridicule rather than to help with healing when we show how truly vulnerable we really are?
If you think you don't know anyone who is suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, then I implore you to pay more attention to the people around you. And maybe think about why they don't want you to know the depth of their hurt.
My former students know about my obsession with Dead Poets Society. Back in the good ol' days when we could watch movies in school, I would show the movie (and have a writing assignment over it--don't worry). Last night I kept watching one of my favorite scenes, which I often watch for inspiration as a teacher and as a writer, but last night I watched it as a small way to pay tribute to an amazing actor. From all of the reports today, it seems that Robin Williams often stood on the edge of that vast abyss of depression until he finally succumbed to its eternal darkness. Money and fame and talent don't guarantee safety from the abyss. I pray that Robin is finally at peace and free from the demons that tormented him.
As Mr. Keating's words poured over me, tears leaked from my eyes because the words held a different weight this time. Knowing what I know now about the person speaking the words...
(You can read "O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman that Mr. Keating quotes here.)
I am thankful for the thirty-eight years that God has given me to write my verse, and I pray that I will be able to keep working on it for years to come. For myself, I pray that I can let go of this false notion that I've got to keep all the plates spinning on the sticks; that I've got to keep all the balls in the air. I want to live a more authentic life, free from doubt and fear. As I greet a another year of life and a new school year, I want to show MORE:
These are the words that I will carry into my thirty-ninth year of life:
I am thankful to God for another year to keep working on my verse. What will your verse be?