Before I opened my eyes this morning, I felt the heaviness that comes with being overwhelmed. The semester is over, which means there will be grading, lots of grading. I’m organizing for my Summer Happening Camp which means class schedules, brochure proofing, organizing menus, and the dreaded budget. I’ve gotta plan for a trip that I don’t really want to go on, clean the fish tanks, clean the house, get the kids set for their summer break, and prepare to let my oldest, my man (child) 😦 head off to Chicago for college in August. Not to mention I may be teaching two summer classes, if they make, and I still have this dang spasm in my neck.
That heaviness was enough to make me stay in bed just a little longer, to keep my eyes closed just a little tighter, to breathe just a little slower. I need a serious vacation, but that isn’t on my list of things to do. Even though I’m already tired and the day has just started, I am grateful that I have the ability to be overwhelmed. That means I’m doing something productive with my life and I care enough about the things I’m doing to stress over them. What if you woke up every day and you didn’t care one way or the other whether you actually did anything? That, I think, would truly be something to worry about.
This isn’t that silver lining on the cloud thinking, rather its an appreciation of the cloud. It is the letting the cloud itself, be the silver lining. Yes, I have to grade seventy-five papers, fifty portfolios, and countless revisions. But each paper is a piece of one of my students, a piece of him/her that has been freely given. I’ve spent the last four months with them and I’m going to miss them. These papers are that final goodbye or see you later. Maybe that is what I’m most overwhelmed by.
While I don’t enjoy preparing for camp, I do enjoy seeing those little ones, in the middle of summer, greeted by their teachers, eating their lunches (Extremely healthy lunches, I might add) and running to their parents at the end of the day, smiling, laughing, saying “I had so much fun learning this or that today.” And then the final goodbye, when it’s all done and I clean out my camp office while thanking God that none of the little ones were injured and all of the parents seemed happy to have spent that slither of summer with our camp and our teachers. Then I smile and I’m happy that I worried in the way that I did.
I’m never happy to have worried about cleaning my house. That is all cloud all of the time, but maybe this writing, this riding, is my version of cleaning my mental space. It is the cleaning of that closet, the one so cluttered things tumble out when you open the door Yes, that closet. The one you keep stuffing things in, hoping it will expand rather than vomiting all of its contents into the tidy space you call life. That closet that is so full, so deep, you don’t even know what you first placed in there. Some of its contents are so old, so yesteryear, you wouldn’t recognize them even if they floated in front of your face. You know, those things you can no longer place your hands on and yet they still have a hold on you.
I think that is how I feel about Dereck leaving. I always knew he would leave one day. Chico and I raised him to do just that. His leaving is not a cloud or a silver lining. It is for him the sun and yet, it is a thing I placed in my ever expanding closet the day he was born. I remember looking at him in the hospital, after all of the doctors and nurses left and we were finally alone, for the first time. I was a young soldier, still living in the barracks. My captain told me I couldn’t go back there with a baby, so he arranged for us to live in the post hotel. Dereck, only a day old, was without a place to call home. I remember in that moment feeling like the worst mother in the world. I ‘d just turned nineteen, one year older than Dereck is now and I was essentially alone. Being in an abusive relationship had a way of making me feel that way.
That morning in the hospital, I cried over Dereck, allowing my tears to flow down my cheeks and splash on his little face. Those tears, I believe were part of my personal baptism, a crossing over from girl to mother. I apologized repeatedly for giving him such a rough start to life. No home, no father, and no mother. Just a girl with a woman’s responsibilities. I’d never wanted him to inherit the lacking I’d grown up with.
He slept so peacefully, eyes closed tightly, breathing slowly, resting in my hands as if they were the safest place, the right place for him to be. I took that image of him and placed it in my mental closet. That safety, that peace is what I wanted to give him every day of his life. But life is never lived in one moment.
This too might be the source of my anxiety. There are few moments left between my little boy, the one who’d run around the house screaming for his ball, and the man who will one day marry and have his own children. I hope they will have a better beginning than Dereck did. I hope they will have a better beginning than I did.
There is so much to do in a day, so much to do in a life. So much grading, cleaning, organizing, planning, and worrying, but I refer to what Dorothy West says in the title of her debut novel, “The living is easy.”
It is easy if you are living. It is even easier if you are living for something.