My day got worse.
Maybe I should rephrase that. Other than an unexpected (read: I forgot all about it and was caught off guard by the reminder that I would have to sit through one of those mind-numbing time-wasters) staff meeting after work, there wasn't much that really was BAD about the day itself. The roads were driveable. No one delivered horrible news to me. A dear friend offered to write one of my vocabulary exams--and in the spirit of asking for and accepting help, which was another resolution/lesson of my last year, I accepted.
Yet my mood continued to spiral down until the panic was in control and logic was out the window. Rage started taking over: anger at the world, life, the universe, everything. I wanted to hit something or someone. I drove home and desperately worked out. For those forty-some minutes, in which I was pleased to discover I'm getting a handle on this Zumba workout, I was able to let go...mostly. And then the rage came back. So I took a long hot shower. And the rage came back. I texted a friend and she called me back and I paced in the snow for who knows how long pouring out my anger and hurt and panic and fear.
She told me I'm allowed to break down, I'm allowed to have my weak moments, I'm allowed to admit that sometimes LIFE SUCKS. If I don't let go and let it out from time to time, it will just build up and fester and prevent me from being strong all the other days and times when I need to keep it all together. Since that's the sort of thing that got me into my huge mess last year in the first place, I have a feeling she's right.
You see, while talking to her I finally put my finger on the trigger to yesterday's debacle. I had been going through my exams from previous years so that I could draw from them for this semester's exams. And I was missing exams from this time last year. Why, I wondered, didn't I have anything for my eleventh graders at all?
And it hit me. Last year at this time I fell into a black hole. Last year at this time I was absent from work for around three weeks. I vanished. I had no exams prepared, piles of papers left ungraded, and no lesson plans left for those struggling to make sense of my classes. My amazing colleagues pulled everything together for me. They parcelled out the papers and got them graded. They pieced together exams from other teachers' after consulting with my students about what we had covered. The head counselor even created, from scratch, an essay exam for my Media Literacy class, since I was the only teacher in the school who taught or had ever taught that now-defunct elective.
(They did this, mind you, without a word of complaint or censure or guilt-tripping. They were deeply worried for me. When I finally returned, all I heard from anyone was how relieved they were that I was back and that if I needed ANYTHING, just ask. They have continued to be a source of amazing support and love and generosity in all the time since. I am so blessed.)
But yesterday, when I realized why I was missing so much information, I was swept back for a moment into that time of despair. While I am so very, very much better in almost every way in comparison to that time, nevertheless...It was so difficult to revisit that darkness, even for a moment. And then the sheer weight of responsibilities and the chaos of my life and the uncertainty of this time, a year later, crushed me.
When I am at that level of stress and panic, the best thing for me is some sort of physical outlet. If I creep into a corner, the darkness wins. So even though I had already done a grueling workout, I took a walk. I walked down the road as quickly as my legs and boots and the snow would let me. After only a few minutes two pieces of advice came to me--Heidi's mention of meditating techniques and Arby's advice to pray. I knew there was no way I could put together an extemporaneous prayer in my mental state at that time, so I began to run through the Lord's Prayer in my mind, over and over again. Gradually I found a rhythm to the words. It became a chant, a mantra and prayer that moved from my mind to my tongue as I found myself marching down that dark, empty, snowy road.
Our Father which art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For Thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory
Forever and ever
As the words became smoother and flowed more naturally off my tongue, my mind finally could focus enough on what I was saying. Certain parts jumped out at me.
Give us this day our daily bread: I struggle constantly to focus on the day at hand. I have learned not to linger on the past much, but I worry about the future, all the things that are to come and over which I have so very little control. Here I ask for what is enough for this day. This one day, this one moment, and the simplest needs. Bread. Nourishment for body and (if one goes off into the philosophical and religious significance of the word) soul. Sufficient unto this day...And that's what I need. Enough for this day. Tomorrow will be time to ask for what is needed for tomorrow.
Forgive us our debts: So much of my darkness, both last year and now, was of my own making. Debts are both sins (the word trespasses is often used here) and what is owed. I feel, so very often, that I owe so much, too much, to everyone. I feel as if I have wracked up such a tremendous load of spiritual and emotional debt that there is no way I can ever repay it all. And I'm right. I cannot pay it back. So here I ask that those debts be forgiven--both the sins and that which is owed--so that I may walk free and light again.
As we forgive our debtors: But there is a codecil. Just as I ask to be freed of those debts, so must I free others. When I cling to resentments and angers and hurts, I not only refuse to grant that freedom of debt to others, I also refuse to free myself from the burden of being the debt-holder. When I harbor anger because someone has hurt me, I only poison myself. When I harbor resentment because someone has not acted or done or said what I want from them, I only worsen the situation. Last night I expected someone to be a mindreader, to magically understand that I was in a very bad state without my having to really express it verbally, to somehow know exactly what to say and do to handle the situation. I had to let go of my resentment and, without anger and without censure, let that person know what was going on and what I needed. I let go of the debt. And we were both freed and lightened and drawn closer in understanding. This is how it needs to be, both with those we love and with God.
Lead us not into temptation/But deliver us from evil: Tom Shippey suggests that these two lines emphasize the dual nature of evil. One kind lies within us--it is internal in both source and effect. Therefore we (I) ask that God not "lead us"--or perhaps, more clearly, allow us to lead ourselves--into temptation and darkness. This is all too real to me. Most, if not all, of my distress yesterday was created within my own mind. It was my own darkness. It was my own evil. And if there was an external source of Evil playing on that weakness last night, urging me on towards acts and words of anger, misplacing my own pain onto others...well then, we (I) ask that God "deliver us" from evil, both of the internal and external sorts.
God has that power.
After almost two miles of walking and chanting, I was finally calm enough and clearheaded enough to think through my situation and my reactions; thank God that I had not, in fact, said or done any of the things I had felt the urge to say and do; and work through where to go from there.
So I went home. I did and said what was needed, and I received the comfort that I needed.
And I ate pizza.
And today is better.
I am not naive enough to think this will not happen again. But this time last year I had almost none of the tools or support or wisdom that I needed to face my darkness, and yesterday's experience taught me that this year is indeed different.
It's another day. It's another step on that winding road, and even though the fog lies thick on the path right now, I know I've seen a glimpse of the joy that lies ahead. So I'm choosing to continue walking.
But MAN do my legs hurt.