Permission to Rest

I guess there are two different kinds of people out there. . .those that have trouble resting, and those that have trouble doing anything but. I find myself sitting here feeling guilty I’m not doing anything, but then quietly realizing I don’t remember the last time I did NOTHING.

I think it’s important to have times of doing nothing, but it can be hard to schedule them in when there isn’t a tangible product or conclusion to the nothing.

I have fought to include times of “nothingness” in my schedule, not very successfully. Resting is something that is hard for me to figure out, even when I’m desperate for it. Putting “rest” on your to-do list turns it into a responsibility, the opposite of rest.

Sometimes I wonder if there is any hope for me.

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Flying high or under the radar?

I’ve had three experiences in rapid succession that have left me not only unsure of what to say, but also unsure of how I feel. I’m left with this strange kind of ache-y hollowness that I don’t really know how to describe.

The first of these was on a really cold morning. I mean, it was really cold, because it was the first really cold day of the season. I have seen much colder than 6F (yes, single digit), but the first time it happens for the year, it kinda takes your breath away. Also, it gives those of us short on small talk some material.

“It’s freezing!” I say. Eloquently.

“I know! It’s really cold out!” she says.

“Yeah! When I. . .went out this morning, it was only 6 degrees!”

That awkward pause? That, I-was-going-to-say-something-but-I-changed-my-mind blip? My brain stopped my mouth before my mouth knew what was going on, and it left me so befuddled I could barely continue the conversation. I was GOING to say, “Yeah, when I went out to take care of the chickens this morning. . .” and then some really bizarre auto-correct kicked in.

You can’t say that.

Why not? Why can’t I say that?

Look at her. Blond hair, blue eyes, perfect skin, new clothes, the backpack you secretly covet. . .she’s too sophisticated to talk to about CHICKENS!

Um, really?

Yeah. Seriously. What are you thinking?

I dunno. I’ve helped her some with homework. She seems nice. I don’t think she’d be grossed out by chickens, or anything.

No! Do not tell the peoples about chickens! Stick to safe, acceptable things, like helping with homework! NO CHICKENS!

But I do have chickens! I don’t think it needs to be any kind of sec–

Look, just shut up, okay?

Um, okay.

It was so weird. I’ve made about a million resolutions that THIS time, I actually open up and make friends, and talk about myself, and not try to make my invisible bubble where we’re all friendly but not really friends. I’ve resolved, repeatedly, that its very lonely when no one has any clue who you are and the only way to head it off is actually open your mouth and say stuff about yourself, instead of quietly thinking them in your head.

The encounter was over in seconds. I felt like I stood there befuddled for nearly as long. What had happened? Why did I feel compelled to edit out chickens? I didn’t mean to do that. It went against all my resolutions. I did it so automatically, and I didn’t even know why. What was wrong with me? And what was wrong with chickens? Lots of rural people come to this school. And even if they didn’t–still, what’s wrong with chickens? Why do I feel the need to pretend I’m not me, or obscure random facets of my existence? I have no answers.

***

I was in the other room, and I don’t think he knew I was there. But he was talking, loudly and with disgust, at my inability to stick with an exercise program. I kept letting things like other obligations or visiting friends get in the way. I’d never learned to just let exercise be a bad thing that happened to me, that I had no control over. I would never just stick with it. Never, never, never.

He wasn’t talking to me, so I stayed quiet. Part of me wanted to protest–you aren’t supposed to live a passive life! You aren’t supposed to just let life happen to you! You’re supposed to be in charge and weigh priorities, and make decisions! Exercise is not my religion, and I will not tell all my friends, “Sorry; I know this is the only day all month that would work for both of us, but that time is when I have to exercise.” And I’m not going to go running when my body is breaking down. Some things are more important.

But that was just a quiet, surface voice, and I abandoned even that. Underneath it was a feeling of such a gulf. He would never understand me. He would never respect me. I would always be separated, alone, weak. But I didn’t want to be like him, and I didn’t agree with his definition of strength.

What words are there for the feeling of when you see how big the space is between you and someone else?

***

This other one, he calls me his baby sister, even though he’s my baby brother. He hates noise. He’s like what-sis-name from lil’ Abner, who wants to go to jail because there are no people there, and no one talks to you never.

But when I practice my singing lessons, there is no reprieve anywhere in the house. The cat disapproves of music of any kind, and flees. Since I am upstairs and he is downstairs, I can’t see what he does. But I’m pretty sure he flees, too.

I told him I was glad that he had patience with me making noise. He told me, very earnestly,

“Oh, no, I think singing is a good thing. Even when you’re bad it, singing is good.”

I wanted to laugh and to cry. I laughed, because you aren’t supposed to cry. He wasn’t even trying to give a backhanded compliment. That was just the truth as he saw it: even though I was making, in his book, an awful racket he could barely stand, he was glad I was singing.

How do you feel when someone tells you that, so earnestly? It’s okay that you’re horrible; I like you anyway. Okay, George. Thanks for the support. I don’t know what to say.

***

I feel asleep thinking about it all. And about my singing lessons, especially. At the beginning of the semester, she told me there would be a concert at the end. She wouldn’t make me do it, because I wasn’t a music major; but her other students would have to do it. I imagined myself singing in that concert. Having learned so much, improved. I would get confidently up there. I would maybe even invite my aunt to come see me, finally singing. I would not hide; I would not hold back. I would victor.

Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road. She had to get the schedule ready. Next time I saw her, I would have to say yes or no. She thought I would be prepared and would do fine, but understood if I didn’t want to. I told her I would think about it. I went home and slept on it, and woke up thinking, “dear God, I’m so glad I don’t have to be part of that concert!”

Why? I’m just tired. I don’t have the emotional strength to fight that battle right now. It’s the same reason I didn’t ask anyone to come to my graduation for my two year degree. I wanted to do it, but I knew everyone would hate to come. I didn’t ask. I mean, I told them when it was and that they could come. But I didn’t specifically say, “This is very meaningful to me; get your butt there.”

I couldn’t. I didn’t even know how I would feel. I just knew I had to go, and I didn’t have the emotional resources to fight that battle with everyone else. Some pictures were taken of me, and my family all said, “wow, she looks so happy in those pictures. huh. I wouldn’t have went to MY graduation, if it was me. I guess she’s weird.” One brother said, “If you’d asked me to come, I would have. I didn’t know it meant that much to you.”

I told him the truth: I didn’t know it was going to mean that much to me. I didn’t tell him the rest, about how sometimes it’s just too hard to swim against the grain. I used up all I had getting me there; I didn’t have anything left to get anyone else there.

It was mostly okay, but then my brother graduated. He had no difficulties inviting the proper grandparents. Plus, he had a much smaller class, and he was valedictorian. And my mom went and my dad, who abhors stepping foot outside of his house–if I remember right, he went too. Then it really wasn’t okay.

I didn’t say anything, because I hadn’t asked my grandmother to come to mine. If I had, she would have come. If she had come, my mom would have come, lest she be shown up by her mother. But I didn’t have the stamina left to do that, so I flew under the radar. I figured out, barely, how to get myself there, and I went through the ceremony with my whole class. Afterwards, my grandma rebuked my mom for not telling her I was graduating. I felt bad, because I should have said something to my grandma instead of hiding. But I felt worse that my mom didn’t have any innate interest in attending my graduation, but had no problem showing up for my brother’s.

I’ve been thinking about that again, I guess, because, Lord willing, I’ll be graduating again this spring. A Bachelor’s degree in science. From an online school. How many jokes do you think there are about graduation ceremonies for online schools? I’d have to travel 3 hours to get to the real ceremony. I am thinking I probably will. I like the feeling of a ceremony closing a door on a chapter of my life.

Is this like the concert? Where I swear now, I will invite everyone? I will talk about chickens? And then in the end, I’m just to tired to fight that battle?

If things go they way I think they’re going to go, in a few more years I will be graduating again, this time with a Doctorate’s degree. What will I do then? Will I ever get up the guts to assert who I am, and that I am important, and that people had better take notice and a little respect of me? Or will I always be this person who flies under the radar because it’s too risky to tell people who I really am?

I don’t know what to feel or what to say.

Physician, Heal Thyself

“You’re going through a lot. . .remember to take care of yourself!”

Um, yeah. No. It doesn’t work that way.

What this phrase, this admonishment, assumes is that you are a perpetual motion machine. Or God. Same thing.

It takes serious amounts of energy to take care of anyone or anything. You are already significantly drained of energy. Whenceforth comes this supposed ability to haul yourself up by your boot straps?

Take care of yourself, take care of yourself, take care of yourself.

I keep hearing this over and over and over again, and it makes me feel guilty. Yeah, I should. The fact that I’m stretched thin and exhausted is my fault. If I was a responsible person who knew how to take care of herself, I wouldn’t be in this position. I need to learn to be a better person, so I can take care of myself, so people won’t be burdened by how I act when I’m in over my head.

Then I was like, wait. How the heck do you take care of yourself? Nobody could tell me that. Just that I had to do it, or I would burn-out. Just, you know, take care of yourself. Some people tried to take the physical aspect of it: eat, sleep, exercise. This approach had two problems. One: myself is more than my body, and my cares, concerns, and needs cannot be fulfilled by attending to by body alone. And Two: do you realize how much it takes out of you to take care of your body? It’s a freaking chicken-or-the-egg situation. Oh, and Three? What makes you think I have control over any of that?

After a bad bout of anxiety leading to some physical symptoms I didn’t care to repeat, I decided that it was Time To Take Care Of Myself. I worked hard at exercising almost every day, at making sure I was eating more fruits and vegetables, and at going to bed at a Reasonable Time. My body kinda felt a little better, but it wasn’t touching anything else. Spending so much time on Eat, Sleep, Exercise was turning me into an automaton–I had thoughts and feelings and ideas I never got a chance to touch, because I was spending all my free time Eating, Sleeping, and Exercising.

The fall-out was that I started having insomnia. Waking up in the middle of the night, still exhausted and wishing I could be sleeping, just so that my mind could have some time run. I wasn’t anxious. I didn’t know why I was waking up. The things that came to my mind were just idle thoughts, but apparently you have to have time to have idle thoughts.

The insomnia did not get better. The insomnia got worse. Falling asleep became a scary, daring attempt. This girl who used to be able to fall asleep within any 5 consecutive horizontal minutes spent TWO HOURS, too tired to stand straight, with her mind chugging and chugging over “nothingness.” This does bad, bad things to homeostasis. When I get that tired, it starts making me feel nauseous, and the thought of putting anything in my mouth repulsive.

The Eat, Sleep, Exercise thing was totally blown to smithereens, by . . .Eating, Sleeping, and Exercising? I couldn’t put enough in it to keep going. All systems were shutting down. My brain was now demanding (and acquiring de facto by striking) time to sit and not function. And the inside of me was still pretty raw, too.

You know, there are just some things that you just cannot do for yourself. You cannot, for example, give yourself a good hug or snuggle. You cannot engage yourself in a really good conversation that gives you new things to think about or new perspectives. You can’t really comfort yourself.

But somehow, we’re told we should be taking care of ourselves. Maybe that’s just not a thing we can do, unless we are God: Be self-sustaining. Need no one. Got it all under control ourselves. I can take care of myself, you know.

No.

No, you can’t.

You aren’t a perpetual motion machine. You can’t create more energy than you expend. You do not have the functional capability to take care of yourself. No one does. We have different needs and we express it differently, but we all need help. We may be very verbal about needing help, or we may be really bad at expressing it. We may try to go find help at the slightest hint of need, or we might have a really hard time accepting help even when it’s freely offered. But none of us is a self-sustained, self-contained, endless capacity individual.

Even Jesus, after He spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. God didn’t say, “Hey, Jesus, you’ve been through a lot. Take care of yourself, okay?” No, God sent His ministering angels to go take care of Jesus. Humanity it is very finite, and Jesus was embodied in humanity. He needed help.

“I hope you feel better soon,” says that “I know there isn’t anything I can do to help you right now, but I hope you don’t have to keep on suffering.” There’s something different about “take care of yourself.” “Take care of yourself” says, “That’s your job and your responsibility. I don’t need to help you in your need; you need to get your act together.” “Take care of yourself” is offered as though it is an expression of empathy or compassion, but it’s really not. It’s an act of washing one’s hands of the situation. “So-and-so really needs to learn how to take better care of herself,” is not an expression of compassion. It’s an act of carefully crossing the street and passing by on the other side. You’re in an icky situation, and you’re on your own, ’cause I’m not touching that.

Peeps, this isn’t about blaming everyone else for you being miserable, and wallowing in the role of being a victim and having no one there to help you. It’s about recognizing that you have no right to be ashamed for asking for help, and that you have a duty to help where you can. Perhaps Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 8: 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

You can’t do it on your own. You need to help. And you need to help others. And maybe where they have a need is where you still have something left to give, and where you have a need is what they still have an abundance in.

In the midst of my falling to pieces and being unable to sleep, I could hear the voice of my old Bio teacher in the halls. He sounded discouraged. He sounded like he was up against a lot. I felt like I could barely walk in a straight line, but I could still send him and email, telling him what an impression he made on me as his student. I didn’t have much to give, but I could at least do that. In needing help, there is a recognition that others do, too. This isn’t about the world revolving around you; this is about the world being full of finite, struggling people, of which you are one.

I cannot take care of myself. Truth be told, I do not even yet know how to ask for help, or what kind of help I need. But I have at least figured out this much: it’s silly for me to think that I’m responsible for “taking care of myself,” any more than it is my responsibility to defy gravity, entropy, the laws of conservation, or even my responsibility to deny my own humanity. I am a human, and I cannot do it all, and I’m not supposed to be able to.

You aren’t, either.  You have enough going on without feeling needlessly guilty that “you’re going all to pieces” because you “just aren’t strong enough.” We’re in a world that we do not, cannot control. We will never be on top of it all, and we will always be struggling. Sometimes, you won’t be able to go any further without someone reaching down to help, or someone behind you giving you that boost.

And while you search for that next handhold, that next little ledge your toes can find some purchase on–remember the others. Remember to give that little push; remember to call some encouragement to those trying to find their own path. Remember that it’s not your responsibility to do it all yourself and never ask for help–and remember that sometimes, it’s really, really hard to ask for help; so don’t wait until they ask. Reach out.

Don’t tell them to take care of themselves; don’t add to them one more responsibility, one more duty to attend to. Tell them what they’ve already done. Tell them what they’ve already accomplished. Tell them, with words or without, that you aren’t going to ignore them through this hard time, because you’ve already got your own hands full. You might not have much to offer, but that’s okay; a few drops of water are pretty valuable in the middle of the Sahara.

Just don’t be surprised or angry or frustrated or embarrassed to say, yourself, “Hey, a little help here! I could really use some ministering angels!” You’re in good company.

Dreams, or Lack Thereof

I was talking with my aunt about difficulties sleeping, and I told her the honest truth: I didn’t know what was keeping me awake.

Then I told her about being scared about applying for grad school, and feeling irresponsible and adrift for quitting my job; I told her about the people I left behind, and about my chemistry teacher who lost her daughter and how we’d talked about my grandpa dying; I talked about finding out one of my former classmates had died, and how I felt like I had no control and was always behind and never caught up; I talked about my laptop dying, and not know how I would pay for school, and just plain old needing help with schoolwork; I don’t even know what all I talked about, but when I was done, she gave me a look and said,

“I can think of 10 different reasons why you can’t sleep, just from what you said.”

Oh.

Well.

It would seem to me that if I’m not in any immediate danger, and all my basic needs of food and shelter are being met, and I am exhausted, then I should be able to sleep. I’m not preservating on any one thing; I am, as my aunt noted, “all over the place.” That, apparently, is part of the problem.

But there is a lot I didn’t tell her, too.

I didn’t tell her about how badly I’d like to start a family of my own.

I didn’t tell her about how my imagination is always caught by the idea of traveling the nation in a pop-up camper like a modern day gypsy.

I didn’t tell her about how I know that there will always be need, but what I want is to go where the need is greatest.

I didn’t tell her about how I didn’t want a just-so life, neat and square.

I didn’t tell her about wanting to be a published author–not for the fame of it, but just to know that what I wrote resonated across human souls.

I didn’t tell her my dreams, and I didn’t tell her how hard it can sometimes feel to hold a world full of wonder inside of you while you dutifully plod along. One foot in front of the other, one assignment after the next. Insisting to yourself that you are going somewhere, but doing it so slowly you’re not quite sure if you really are moving at all, or will ever arrive anywhere.

I keep waiting for permission to just have fun.

I don’t mean, “have fun “drunk-on-somebody’s couch” have fun. I mean, “letting-the-dreams-come-out-of-you” have fun. It’s still work; but it’s so much more full of life–not a reflection of duty, but a reflection of the self you were created to be.

Am I supposed to settle for less than that? Accept that dreams are dreams for a reason–they don’t find their way to waking hours? And if I’m not supposed to settle for less than that visions imbedded in my mind, how do I exchange one for the other? A person still needs to eat, and eating needs money, and money needs a job, and once you’re in a job, how do you dream? And what do you do with the fear and the mourning that your dreams may never be more than dreams?

Say Something Nice

I always get so discouraged when I scroll through the internet-world and see nothing but people complaining and bemoaning. Doesn’t anyone have anything pleasant to say? Invariably, I find myself working through this cycle:

1. Discuss things frankly.

2. Hit a rough spot and vent furiously.

3. Look back over my Facebook wall and feel ashamed that I’m just one more person spewing bile into the ether.

4. Look for something good to say and fail.

5. Fall silent under the premise that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

6. Tentatively give up on my vow of silence, but only start posting one-sided happy-rainbow-sunshine-pretty-gloss.

7. Forget I’m “being good,” and go back to discussing things frankly.

8. Hit a rough spot, and knock everyone’s socks off with how vehement Little Miss Happy-Rainbow-Sunshine-Pretty-Gloss can be.

9. Yes, we’re cycling now. No, I don’t think it really has anything to do with that cycle.

What’s interesting to me is that, while I first observed and analyzed this behavior of mine on Facebook, I realize it’s everywhere. It’s in my day to day life and the face I put on when I walk out the door. It’s here, too, as I begin to feel guilty for how negative and down my posts have been lately, and I find myself struggling and searching for something nice I can say–not wanting to fall silent, but unable to say something that isn’t the lengthier equivalent of (*#%^@!!!

But what’s also interesting to me is how my moments of multisyllabic fire and brimstone has an apparently very polarizing effect. Some people say “Scary! Run away, run away!” (Okay, maybe not quite, but they find it distasteful or at least uncomfortable.) And some people laugh hysterically and say, “I love when you show your fire!”

I like the second response. It means they’ve recognized that I needed to (literally) let off some steam, and that they found my presentation, rather than a dismal display of the ingratitude and selfishness of humanity, to be a fine piece of performance art. All is right with the world. I have expunged myself without descending into the utter depths of self-absorption.

The first response, on the other hand, is the one that makes me shut up. I really am horrible, aren’t I? I have a thousand treasures that millions of people would dream of having, and this is what I offer up? And I quietly creep back into my hole, and promise to do better.

The thing is, the people who laugh are the people who know or understand me better. And yet that’s the response I’m more inclined to brush aside, favoring instead the strangers who say I’m doing it all wrong.

Maybe that’s the wrong moral to take. Maybe I should just be recognizing that people who like me are going to take the rough patches right along side the shining face, and that, actually, even, if you could possibly believe it–they prefer my unbridled truth to my varnished sweet talk.

I still believe that we have to be in the habit of monitoring what we’re repeatedly saying. 10, 15, 30 years of complaining does turn from a habit into your character. We do set patterns by what we do every day. I still believe that the goal is looking to find the beauty, not looking to see what else you can turn into a snazzy rant or a pitiful out-cry.

But I am also toying with this idea that we don’t have to “go to our room until we can be in a better mood.” Maybe part of what makes me valuable and unique is what I do with my rough spots–and I don’t mean hiding them. Maybe people need to see my multisyllabic fire and brimstone to realize just how deep my emotions run–to wails of distress, yes, but also to some very deep and strong currents of caring and empathy and protection. Maybe they need to see my rough spots to realize how genuine I am–that the ready smile is not a facade, and that it can fade with pain–but that it will be back, because it is real. It has been tested and tried and smashed and strained, and it is still there.

Maybe I don’t need to shut up and go away until I have something worthwhile to say; maybe what I have to say right now is already worthwhile.

***

{Cue pointless addendum, because I’m not done talking yet and I’m too lazy to start another post. Part I and Part II are not necessarily related, and that doesn’t bother me.}

 

***

Physics has taken a very surprising turn for me. I started off scared, because it had been a year since I’d taken Physics I, and here I was sitting in the classroom of Physics II. I couldn’t remember how to think in physics; my brain wasn’t up to gear. I was sure everyone else in the class had just taken Physics I and totally got what was going on. The physics professor had me 4 years previous for an even lower level physics course, which I had totally aced. He kept looking at me like, “C’mon, where’s your brilliance? I know you’re smarter than that!”

Well, I wasn’t. Frustrated and, yes, ashamed, I showed up in office hours. He was delighted to see me. I’d forgotten that, because I’d only went to his office hours once in the lower level, and I’m not even sure why. But his face had lit up then, and it lit up now, too.

Well, I was in his office hours nearly every week. I was mildly horrified. No topic has ever driven me to office hours like that, ever. I mean, ever. I’m the crazy girl who gets 103’s on her Anatomy and Physiology exams, sans assistance, not the girl who camps outside the professors office. I’m the know-it-all who helps all of her classmates and tutors and teaches, not the one who comes begging for help. I didn’t come one week, because I actually got the the material. I sent him a brief little email, basically saying, “yay, aren’t you glad I didn’t come begging this week? I got smarter!”

I was honestly surprised that he was honestly disappointed. Subconsciously, I declared to myself that I would never miss office hours again. Luckily (unluckily?), I didn’t need much help with that resolve. Physics II continues to drive me to office hours. The fun thing is that he’s a different person in office hours than he is in lecture. In lecture, I very nearly do not exist. I don’t mean that he ignores me. I mean that we are all Students, and as such, The Same Entity. We’re not really recognized as individuals, and having been in a class where the teacher could not differentiate between students and friends in her classroom, I am glad.

But it in office hours, we get to be individuals. He gets to look proud of me when he hands me my exam with a 90 on it, and he picks on me for my failure of basic arithmetic, and now I know that in I don’t have to be A Student. I can be Me. The Me that a lot of students would take to be symptoms of mental illness: the nerdy part of me that wants to know, and asks the teacher all sorts of random, barely related questions. The striving-for-perfection Me: we both mourned a little when, right on the very last part of the exam, I lost 4 points, dropping me down to 96. I almost nailed that 1-0-0! I had a bio teacher once who told me and my over-achieving cluster of friends that if we didn’t keep quiet our grousing about our high 90’s scores, the rest of the class was going to lynch us. His point was well taken, but still. So close! At least somebody gets that.

We share a sense of humor, but more than that, I get his personality and his quirks. The things that other people find to be demanding or curt or intimidating simply don’t phase me. I’ve seen demanding, I’ve seen curt, I’ve seen intimidating; he doesn’t rate. He’s an introverted, precise, eccentric physicist. I don’t have problems with any of that.

Office hours has gone from a duty-bound expression of failure to nearly the only haven I have for this semester. Don’t get me wrong; office hours are filled with physics. I have stumped him on occasion, and sometimes my solutions are right and his are wrong. He has been getting the painful satisfaction of having his entire set of homework solutions thoroughly checked–mostly because he has been using the same set, sometimes for years. It’s satisfying that they’re now corrected, but painful that they’ve been incorrect for so long without anyone calling him out. How many students, then, have never bothered to do the homework? But more often than not, I am staring at scribbled equations in my atrocious handwriting, trying to figure out the language being used to describe the world.

But in it and around it, betwixt and between it, there is conversation (of the English variety, not the mathematical one. Well, a bit of both, then, not everyoe has conversations about the specific heat needed to melt their laptop). What makes it doubly enjoyable is that it’s not just a haven for me, but it appears to be a haven for him as well. He is not at all disappointed when I run out of physics questions a few minutes before we have to run off to our respective classes.

This week, he’d asked me if I’d had a chance to visit one of my former teachers and a friend of his. I said that I had, several weeks previous. He responded that it was a good thing that I did. Immediately, I could feel my face fill with horror, thinking only of how I’d just found out about my former classmate dying. Why, what had happened? I asked. Nothing. He apologetically explained that he knows some people have difficulty with the manner of physicists, but he really did just mean only and exactly what he said: it was a good thing that I did.

Sometimes I feel like I get these sudden flashes of insight, and here was one of them. In those 7 words, straight-forward physicist or not, he was saying how meaningful it was to him to have me weekly in his office, or he wouldn’t be wishing me on his friend. And with his apologies on his physicist manner, I realized that most people probably do not understand their physics teachers. Most people have trouble understanding the physics, yes, but also the physicist.

I do not have a strong love of physics, and I doubt very much I shall ever be a physicist. But I have to admit that I will very much miss being his student. Or at the very least, sitting in his office hours saying smart-aleck things that make him reflexively reach for something to write them down. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be quoting “Algebra is very reliable, if you do it right,” for classes to come.

 

Sometimes I See You

In real life, I am pretty hesitant to talk about the things that I think I do well at; I’m always waiting for someone to jump out accusing me of being full of myself, self-absorbed, an inflated view of myself and my abilities and the effect I have on people. But there are some things that I think I do very well, and here I boast.

I used to work as a physical therapist assistant, before I returned to school full time. Do you know what I miss? I miss getting the wild animals to eat out of my hand. I had recalcitrant people–oh, they gave me new meaning for that word. I had this one guy who would literally pretend to sleep in the waiting room, just to avoid eye contact with anyone else. He worked in a factory, and I had it on good authority that he was even more withdrawn than the other reclusive workers, opening up to no one. I had him talking about his grandkids.

Another young man, probably just older than me, looked as though he sucked on lemons and had entirely forgotten how to smile and that he would trust no one or no thing and you couldn’t make him happy. I chiseled a smile out of him in the first 30 minutes, a smile he tried to hold in as though it didn’t belong on his face. But after that I got all sorts of expressions from him. I earned trust from him that I didn’t think would ever be possible.

I sparred with grouchy and belligerent men, who were intent on testing your mettle, and wanted to see what you would do under pressure. I worked with a guy who spent a whole half-hour complaining behind my back about how he didn’t want to be treated by me, and finished his course of therapy by telling me I did “a hell of a good job,” and meant it.

I worked with people who were depressed, and coaxed life back into them. I work with people who were unmotivated and didn’t know how to work, and convinced them to earn their healing. I worked with women who were so discouraged they were crying, fearful they’d never be able to function, and helped them through to the other side. I got to see people achieve their goals–and more than achieve them, surpass them. I challenged, I comforted, I encouraged, I listened–and I got to see the results. It was exhausting–and exhilarating.

The break from the emotional exhaustion was good, at first, but I’ve soon begun to miss it. People all over the world are hungry for a few words of hope and comfort and encouragement, and I am literally sitting on my bum at a desk? What it is wrong with this picture? The sparking of human life was what I was good at, and now I’m doodling in the margins of my notebook, wondering how I’ll every be able to remember the charges of polyatomic atoms and random solubility rules.

So when the chance presented itself to being some tutoring, I took it. I would teach, I would encourage, their grades would turn around–instant gratification! I admit I had visions colored with past experiences–all successful, some stunningly so. What I found instead was sadness–situations I couldn’t fix. People who’s academic problems ran deeper than I had any confidence in an hour or two a week of tutoring to influence. People who were coming for help when it was too late to fix their grade, people who couldn’t or wouldn’t help themselves between tutoring sessions.

It kind of came to a head last Friday. This poor woman wants to pass the physics needed to become a physical therapist assistant, and I want to help her. But only a few of her homework problems are done, and it’s due in an hour. Why? Why didn’t you work on it before? There should only be a few areas you are stuck on, not begin at the beginning and explain it all! I told you that before!

I didn’t say that. I said, “How is your husband? Is he doing better?”

“No, he’s still in the hospital with the heart monitor on, and I hope he won’t get an infection at the hospital, and now my son has a fever, and my homework is due, and there’s so much I haven’t done!”

And my heart breaks for her, because I can’t fix this. If she doesn’t have the time to work on the homework, she won’t pass this course. If she can’t pass this course, her plans for future employment are dashed. I work with her as much as I can throughout the hour, but I know we can’t get it done in time for the deadline, and in all honesty, I don’t think she will pass this course. Am I even helping her, or just wasting her time with a false hope?

“It’s hard to learn when your mind isn’t here–it’s over there with your husband in the hospital and your son with a fever.”

“But I need to do this! My head has to be here!”

“Sometimes, we have to make choices that are hard to make. When you have to choose between being with your husband in the hospital and doing school work, well, it’s not a choice that you want to make. But in the grand scheme of things, your husband and children are much more important.”

“I want to chose both!”

I left the tutoring session feeling so worthless. I’m not going to see the look of delight in her eyes when she pulls out her next exam to show me her results. But even more troubling to me was the realization that it may not matter. Just the evening before, I’d heard of the unexpected death of one of my classmates who had gone through the physical therapist assistant program with me. And now, all I could think was that the next time I met with the student I was tutoring, she was going to tell me her husband had died and would likely have to pull out of the program to support her two young children.

I had wanted to be the one to turn that magic key and unlock the world of delight. I had wanted to to see the fruits of my labor, and see that they were good. I wanted to make everything all better, I wanted to feel that high of seeing the look of gratitude from success in someone’s face. This was exhausting without any of the exhilaration, and I felt like I never should have picked any tutoring up to begin with.

But somewhere in the back of my head, I thought I heard something else, too. A quiet voice reminding me that what we look for is the measurable results, the instant gratification. On that grounds, the entire experience feels like a fiasco. But maybe–maybe I wasn’t there to raise her physics grade. Maybe the whole reason I was there was so that someone would be there to tell her, “Your husband and children are more important than school.” Maybe she needs to hear that more than she needs to pull a good grade.

I’m not happy with that. I want my rush of I-made-everything-okay. I wanted to be able to display my prowess at getting inside of someone’s head, and bringing them through the finish line they thought they’d never reach. Having the privilege of telling someone that, in light of the frailty of human life, it was okay to chose to fail at physics–was not enough. Where is the hope in that? Where is the delight of success in that?

Then again, I didn’t start out this post talking about how totally awesome I was at physics. I started out this post talking about the human need to be valued, respected, cared for, drawn out, comforted, encouraged. I talked about how I learned, through my job, to not doubt my ability to see through the shrouds and barricades thrown up around peoples’ hearts. I learned to say what I believed they needed to hear in order to heal, putting aside the self-consciousness that comes from speaking to the core of a being you’ve only just barely met.

There are a hundred thousand people who can tutor physics. I do not think there are so many people who can see the relative worthlessness of their tutelage in light of what really does matter, who can come expecting to discuss specific heat and then realize what really needs to be addressed is human worth.

I wanted to be her hero of physics and education. In that, I feel like I’m failing. But it occurs to me that my whole encounter with her may be utterly beside the point of those few hurried words as I scrambled to get to my next class: In the grand scheme of things, your husband and children are much more important.

Did not that use the skills I’d learned? Did not that use the talent I secretly know is mine? But all I can see is her anguished face, saying, “I want to chose both!” I’m not enough to bring her both.

Sometimes, being able to get inside someone’s head means that you get to lead them to joy, and rejoice with them, and it is exhilarating. But sometimes it just means you climb in there and look around and see the fear and the darkness, and there is nothing you can do but hurt with them. It’s hard to remember that hurting with them has value–that hurting alone is a torment a thousand times worse than hurting with someone by your side. It’s hard to see the worth in acknowledging problems you can’t fix. But how often have you laid awake, wishing someone would acknowledge your struggles and fears and battles?

When that’s all you can do, it doesn’t seem like much of a gift. It doesn’t seem like a wonderful and clever gift to be able to get inside of the person full of hurt, and it doesn’t seem like you’re offering much of a gift to say, “wow, it’s full of hurt in here!” I can only hold out hope for that thin, quiet voice inside of me that said, “There. That was the first thing of any real value you’ve done for this person. Physics be damned; she has a husband to take care of.”

When I Can’t Take It Anymore

Some people, I think, are lucky enough to know what they’re thinking or feeling when, well, they’re thinking it or feeling it. For some of the rest of us, our thoughts and feelings are like massive weather systems, too big to be fully comprehended. Yes, we can feel the wind blowing this way, and yes, we can feel the wind blowing that way, but it’s hard to finally figure out that there is a massive storm making landfall that will take three days to move through. We can may be see some of the signs and symptoms of what’s coming, but we don’t really get it until it’s upon us, or perhaps has even passed it’s way.

If you asked me how I thought I was doing, I would say that right this second, I’m doing pretty okay. I feel like things are sort of vaguely under control. To you, even the language I’m using says “Whoa!! Major alert! Things are not cool!” To me, I am busy thinking of all the ways it could be worse–I’m not crying right now; I’m not hurting from so much built up muscle tension; I’m not immediately scared about tomorrow. Things are pretty okay, I guess.

But they’re not.

Because I Can’t Take It Anymore.

I am gradually, slowly, tediously becoming a better meteorologist. And here’s the thing–even when I can’t see all things looming on the horizon (probably because I’m resolutely looking the other way), I know that something is massively Not Okay, when I Can’t Take It Anymore. Everything is too much. And I mean everything. Like all those little annoying things, like someone always chewing with their mouth open. Now, it’s not a little annoying thing. It’s a problem. I mean, it is really A Problem. It is not okay.

And a rational person (does such a creature exist?) would say, “Um, hello? That person has always chewed with their mouth open. You have managed to survive it thus far; it is probably not a cause for a world crisis now.” Well, too bad. Because I Can’t Take It.

Other people who can maybe pick up on the not so subtle signs that I maybe can’t now begin to ask helpful questions, like, “Um, so, what’s been going on lately?”

“Nothin’ much.” We both know this is a lie; but this is not me attempting to deceive you. This is me making a desperate, wild attempt to deceive myself, because I want that to be the answer so very badly. Also? Because I just noticed that you asking that question made me want to cry, and I don’t want to cry–least of all in front of you. And also? Because I don’t know why I feel like crying. I’m just going to anyway.

So you know it’s a lie, and I know it’s a lie, and you try to probe a little deeper, so now I have to engage in on the spot psychoanalysis. What this really means is that I tell you the first things that pop into my mind that make me feel unhappy and sad, while still shielding you, me, any innocent bystanders and also inanimate objects–and did I mention me?–from the core of things that really bothers me.

I don’t know what really bothers me. Part of this is because denial, I’m sure. Part of it is because there are so many things interacting with so many different other things, it can be hard to pick out A Reason. And maybe partly is because I’m not sure I can trust anyone (including myself) with that much vulnerability. It can be really hard to admit to yourself your fears and hopes and dreams. It can be really hard to admit what you’re disappointed by; it can be really hard to admit what you’re looking for.

Maybe some lucky people get to figure this out by bland logic. Some of the rest of us, who aren’t so lucky, find out we’re in Big Trouble by waking up at 2 am and not being able to fall back asleep. Repeatedly. You might be thinking that would mean I was laying awake thinking about troubling things, but that would be putting me back in the “lucky” category. What I am doing is laying awake thinking, “Oh, God, I’m so tired, why aren’t I asleep? What am I supposed to be thinking about during normal waking hours that is now preventing me from sleeping? Please just tell me so I can hurry up and think about it and go back to sleep, because I am so, so tired.”

I have been doing this for almost 2 weeks now. I would like very much now to figure out what is wrong, so I go back the heck to sleep. Instead, things have progressed merrily to I Can’t Take It Anymore. People, I am working overtime to figure out what my problem is. I usually just come up with “I’m overwhelmed.” By what? How? What for? What changed?

I don’t know. I don’t have any of the answers. All I know is that I Can’t Take It Anymore. This is a totally unhelpful piece of information, and it’s pretty much all I’ve got. Even at the special hour of 2 am.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG, PEOPLE, BUT IF IT DOESN’T GET BETTER SOON, I’M GONNA PUNCH SOMEONE!!

Except not really, because punching people hurts my fist. It is more likely to be emotionally catastrophic than physically catastrophic. It’s like this big, loud alarm going off, and people are running around asking what’s wrong and what to do about it. Is it a fire? An air raid? A tsunami?

“Well,” this is the answer, “what happens is, the siren goes off anytime something really, really bad is going to happen. But we don’t know what. So I guess you can keep running around and screaming if you want; I really don’t have any better suggestions.”

Now please also remember that this alarm-siren likes to go off at 2 am. Shoot me now.

I know some of the things that I’m craving: affirmation. chocolate. sleep. to be individually important to someone. sunlight. resolution. affirmation. answers. space of my own. sleep. meaning. to work with someone, instead of by myself. affirmation. Yes, I know that one keeps popping up. How about that. What am I supposed to do with that? Put it on my shopping list, and take it off shelf that affirmation is stocked on? Put it on my to-do list? Affirmation is like a hug–if the wrong person gives it to, or gives it to you for the wrong reason, it’s just creepy and gross, or at the very least ineffective.

When I Can’t Take It Anymore, I write lots of long, wandering words that are pretty well summed by: I am in distress. If you were hoping to get more than that out of this blog post, I apologize; so was I.

Jerks are okay, but you sensitive people are ruining things for everyone!

Am I venting? Yes, I’m venting. The thing about sanctuaries is that you normally spend the most time there when you’re hurting.

But I don’t make this stuff up, people, and I don’t write about the same event multiple times. There are just these certain themes that keep coming up, and maybe part of the problem is that I don’t know how to deal with them properly during the event.

Last night, my brother was at it again, in fine form.

“. . .he and I didn’t really get along well, because insecure people don’t like jerks.” Note: my brother is claiming he is a jerk. This might be considered a sign of humility, if he actually thought that was a problem.

“Right,” I say, rolling my eyes and dripping sarcasm. “Insecure people don’t like jerks, whereas everyone else just loves jerks!”

“Well,” he amends. “I guess it would be better to say that sensitive people don’t like jerks.”

Right, because being a jerk is a totally justifiable, acceptable, understandable thing, and being sensitive is, like, totally uncalled for!

I get that we all have our weaknesses; we all act sometimes in ways we know we should not act. I don’t have this horrible problem with someone saying, “Sometimes, I act like a jerk.” Me, too. But I do strongly maintain the opinion that “being a jerk” is a problem, is something you should regret, and is something you should apologize for–not something you should expect other people to adjust to and accommodate!

I am sensitive. Sometimes, I’m overly sensitive. I guess the idea is that–because of my glaring character flaw!–I think that when I’m being overly sensitive, I am the one at fault and should apologize for taking offense were none was meant. Whereas, I suppose, one who is not flawed, and is quite comfortable in their jerk-iness, realizes they have no need to be ashamed for hurting other people, because, you know, they’re just jerks and that’s normal behavior for jerks and people have just to got deal with the way things are.

The idea, I suppose, is that sensitive people aren’t willing to accept jerks the way they are, putting jerks into isolation for no good reason–as the jerks were perfectly willing to get along with everyone who, you know, didn’t have a problem with being treated poorly. And then all those sensitive people had to go and ruin a good thing by not accepting being treated badly, and then–only then!–was there conflict between the jerks and the sensitive people. If the sensitive people had just been more tolerant, jerks and sensitive people could have lived together in harmony.

Um, no. Getting along with people doesn’t mean “everyone admits that I’m right.” It means meeting the other party half-way. Getting along is not where I say, “Sometimes I’m too sensitive,” and you say “Yep, you are.” Getting along is not where you say, “If you were less sensitive, it wouldn’t matter that I was a jerk.” Getting along is where I come half-way–“Sometimes I’m too sensitive,”–and you come half-way–“sometimes, I don’t treat you well”–and we BOTH make an effort to understand the weakness of each other and to ADDRESS the weakness of ourselves. I can try to meet you half-way. . .but I can’t make the whole trip myself. If you’re not willing to travel, we’re not going to get any closer. . .and that’s not my fault!

“Girl talk, blah, blah, blah”

Yes, my brothers and dad consider that a valid form of description for blogs such as this, which is why they don’t know this is here (at least as far as I know).

I raised some objects that it’s not really pleasant to have yourself dismissed as “girl talk, blah, blah, blah”; I was informed that the he saw the need for a certain amount of honesty.

Well, excuse me.  I never claimed to be writing deep philosophy or earth-shattering profundity. But just because it is the feminine form of communicating, you feel the need to be “honest” and tack on some “blah, blah, blah’s” just to show what you think is  the true value of it?

So, yeah, you’re not invited. Because it’s exhausting to be always swimming against the grain of condescension. And sometimes, this is a great relief–a place where I can just do my girl talk without the blah, blah’s. But sometimes, I just feel like it’s really sad. Because your level of dismissal means it’s not worth it to me to share with you who I am. I won’t tell you, and you won’t know, and you’ll wonder why. Because everyone should be ready and able to defend who they are, and only a coward wouldn’t stand you down to insist who they were over your objections.

But what am I gaining you by fighting you? I could tell you that I’d love to ride horses, and you would say, “Typical girl” disgustedly. So I won’t tell you that, even though it’s true. What would I gain? I could tell you that often I think about traveling the nation, the world: to see the wonder of God’s creation, to see His people everywhere, to remember that He made the whole world and then came into it as a human. How exciting to behold that! But you would say, “how stereotypical. Romantic notions of traveling the world. Real life doesn’t work that way, you know.”

No, I don’t know. I know I’m harboring dreams I’m not telling people, and I am discovering something else about myself: I don’t sit on dreams. I act on them. I don’t think maybe someday. I lay one brick after another until I reach it. Some day, I’m going to do some crazy stuff. And you’re going to say, “what the heck as gotten into her head? She used to be so reasonable!” No, I never really was. I found out what I could say to you, and what wore me out to no gain. You think the only sane course of action is to live in your little monastery, but that’s never been one of my goals. I just didn’t see the point to argue with you about the value of the world, when I saw you were so set in your thinking and could not relate to me.

So you are honest about what you think about what I have to say. Let me be honest, too: I don’t have any reason to say it to you, then. I’ll be quiet and spare you the blah, blah, blah.  I am. But I do not owe it to you to tell you that. I don’t owe it to you to parade my thoughts across your board of judgement. If you don’t value it, I can keep it to myself.

Somehow, you don’t see that. You feel like everyone should be ready to deal with criticism, because anyone who won’t allow themselves to be subjected to criticism is engaging in protectionism of the worst kind: not allowing their ideas or thoughts to be challenged, desirous of being admired rather than respected, and (perhaps worst of all!) being too fragile.

But criticism does not equal respect. There is a difference between constructive criticism and criticism, an apparently extremely fine distinction that you have trouble with. Giving you a chance to trash me is totally different than being open to challenge. I’m willing to discuss things; I’m not willing to go looking for opportunities to be mocked. You’ve mocked me enough that I don’t see the likelihood of anything else happening. You don’t demonstrate that you value my faculties for thinking or decision making, and so I don’t want to involve you in the process any more.

Can you not see how this drives us apart? Do you really think that, by your decree, I will simply grow that “thicker skin” and submit to your view of what communication is supposed to be like? Do you really think that you can drive me to silence and then declare you know what I’m thinking because I’m so predictable? You don’t know what’s going on inside my head. And you won’t know. Because that would mean listening without dismissing, and your “honesty” compels you to tell me how I’m wrong and foolish and too emotional about everything. That just tells me that I’m not safe with you, because nothing is good enough for you. It certainly doesn’t tell me that I’m actually wrong and foolish and too emotional–only that <em>you</em> think I’m wrong and foolish and too emotional. I know you, too, and what you think doesn’t hold as much weight with me as you seem to think it should.

That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of fighting with you. I am. When I am struggling, I don’t need someone else to just heap it on top of everything else. If that’s all you have to offer, then it’s easier for me to work through my struggles by keeping them to myself. I don’t know if that’s what you wanted or not. Somehow, I think not. Somehow, I think you want your cake and to be able to eat it, too.

Well, here’s what I want.

I want to be a girl, talking.

Without the Blah. Blah. Blah.