There is something about the shock of cold that is powerful as a writer.
I know that’s a funny thing to say, as I live in Hawai‘i, of all places, but any time I get to go somewhere cold (oddly, this time, Houston for NCTE), I’m reminded about what a powerful sensation the cold is.
The cold makes me turn inward. It focuses me. It forces me to eschew the outside world (which, for me, is often distractingly beautiful), and instead turns me back to what’s it inside.
And that’s powerful, because as teachers, we’re so quick to nourish everyone else’s voice. Rarely do we make the time and allow ourselves to grow our own voices. We’re so focused on what everyone else wants or needs, we forget that our students look to us as models, which means modeling the practice of prioritizing time to nourish, to self-care, and to read, write, and grow as people.
So, as I ran down some cold, dark trails one morning in Houston, I thought. I asked myself: What are the stories that are sitting in my heart that I have been too busy to share?
A few weeks ago, I went home, looked at my running shoes, and started to sob.
I don’t know what came over me, but I was just so sad. I was devastated. It felt like I was watching the slow death of a part of myself. The sight of my abandoned running shoes lying against the door frame hit me– in the past, my shoes had symbolized struggle, discipline, pain, joy. They were literally covered in my blood, sweat, and tears. So, to see them laid against the door frame, a reminder of what I wanted but felt was unattainable, was so cheesy, yet such a powerful symbol of the place I was in. I felt a pang of longing and sadness swell inside me that was so big it felt the only way I could get it out was to let it seep out of my eyes and wring it out of my throat.
I flopped onto my couch in a heap and began to cry. My throat grew hoarse as I let my mouth hang open, sadness ringing out of it like the mourning church bells at a funeral. I held myself, quite literally, on my couch, and let myself steep in what I was feeling.
A few minutes later, I was able to catch my breath. I inhaled, and felt the cool stream of air flowing into me slowly bring me back to a calmer place.
And then, 40 minutes later, I went out and ran 6 miles much faster than I had in a while.
Sadness is a funny and powerful emotion, and one that we run away from far too often. We associate sadness with tragedy. We do everything we can to stifle or erase or “get over” it as quickly as we can.
The thing is, sadness actually forces us to take time to check in with ourselves. Like a cold or an ache, it’s way for our bodies to let us know that something is off or in transition, and we need to check into that part of ourselves and try and understand that some part of ourselves is in flux.
I look back on that day and ask myself what I needed to heal, what needed to change. As I remember, I realize how quickly I had let the world around me pull me away from tending and cultivating the world growing in my heart.
It’s certainly not an unusual phenomena for me, particularly at this time of year. The beginning of the school year always tends to be crazy, and when you combine that with my first year being a full-time cross country assistant coach and the handful of part-time jobs I have, it was so crazy that I barely had time to breathe. I didn’t write– for the first time in nearly a decade, I haven’t written a post about my birthday and what I want this year of my life to be. When we get so pulled away from ourselves that we forget to nourish our internal growth, the lack of light and care makes it a lot harder to feel like we’re on solid, fruitful ground.
It’s hard, though, because in some ways I feel like I’m doing some of my strongest work as a teacher this year. I’ve incorporated student feedback and finally have a manageable plan for reading and writing this year. My kids are having some really meaningful conversations, and I’m feeling like I have a better handle on my work coaching first-year teachers too.
So part of me doesn’t want to step away– my mind keeps telling me I have to work, work, work to keep up this quality of work.
If running has taught me anything, though, it’s that physical and mental recovery is the only way you perform at your best. Physically, recovery days allow our muscles to rebuild– the sinews and fibers in our legs heal and grow stronger after we break them down with a work out. Mentally, taking time to recover and turn inward allows us to actually reflect on what’s happened and learn from it to move forward. Grasping at the the straws of individual moments and seconds-to-breathe is hardly a way to hold on and create meaningful change in our work.
My sadness wasn’t a problem, really, it was the rainstorm reminding me that I needed to return back to myself. It was the beating of the rain reminding me I had to listen to my internal workings before everything crumbled.
I am, now, so grateful for the sadness I was feeling. I am doing my best not to run away from it, and instead listening to it as helps me return to myself. Like water, it flowed through not to destroy, but to purify– and to bring back to light the parts of me that had gone dark.