I joke that my children are on “January Avoidance” and are in no hurry to pick up their textbooks and update their uniform items, because that will mean that the glorious long summer holidays are drawing to a close. That the reality of starting a new school year, of responsibility, of work, of schedules, of daily grind, is nearly upon them.
Within a matter of days all my former colleagues will return for “Staff week”. Something that has been part of my life at this one school for the past 8 Januaries. Those few days where the staff get together, the week before the students return, in preparation of a new school year ahead.
Where the staff children grumble at the necessity of a couple of days of “Vacation Care”.
A few days of preparation, of planning. Of fresh beginnings, of a meeting of old and new.
The calm before the storm.
The juggernaut about to begin.
But this coming week, this year, I will not be there.
It’s a freedom I want, but then it’s a freedom I don’t want.
Because it means I don’t belong, that I am no longer part of it. That is the practical truth.
In the bigger picture of the heart, what it feels is that I am not needed, not wanted. It is still a bitter pill to swallow. The circle of life continues, but suddenly my place in it, where I fit, is less clear.
We all need a purpose, a reason to do what we do. An incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Self-help empires have been founded on this concept. In Christian circles, writer Rick Warren has made a fortune from his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, which has spawned sequels, courses and programs all looking at what the point of our existences may be – how the little cogs in the various wheels might fit together.
What is the point of it all?
Nobody’s life is plain sailing, and it is naïve to believe it will be so. And it is well documented that periods of adversity and failure have helped shaped many who have gone on to better and greater things. Because, ultimately, they have risen above their critics and still followed their dreams.
I too, have had a varied life with some incredible successes and highs, especially in years past, but some real bumps in the road along the way as well.
And I know all too well about having a sense of purpose. And positives being “Just around the corner”. And “Good things come to those who wait”.
However, these past 12-15 months have been possibly amongst the most consistently bruising I have experienced. A hallmark being that, try as I might, issues I faced were ultimately not resolved and the solution was to finally admit defeat. However this lack of closure and critical lack of “success” has led to something more profoundly personal which, although time has dulled, I cannot fundamentally shake.
Here is the problem.
All the Optimism. The “Glass Half Full”. The “You can be anything you want to be”. The “Work hard and you can achieve the sky”.
I essentially know this stuff.
I have read it.
I have studied it.
I have counselled other people about it.
I have written about it.
Bolstered the confidence of dozens of students.
Given numerous “Pep talks.”
And convinced other people of it.
But now I struggle to believe it.
As Natalie Imbruglia, an artist of my era, sung in her heart-rending ballad “Torn”:
I’m all out of faith, this is how I feel: Nothing’s fine, I’m torn
As often happens, despite I describe myself as “A Reluctant Pastor’s wife”, a Scripture reference floats into my head. Today Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind. It says: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.
“Confidence” “Assurance”. Terms I used to use when writing reams of Instrumental Music reports to encourage students in my care.
But as an adult, where does that confidence, that assurance come from? Most of us, without realising it, receive some positive feedback from other people in our lives – from our families, from our friends, from our colleagues. We receive a sense of satisfaction from what we achieve, on a daily, weekly basis. We can look back and see evidence – hopefully – of what we have done and achieved. This feeds into our confidence, assurance, and sense of worth.
Many years ago when we lived in Borehamwood, North London, our first parish was a small church on a large piece of green.
This entailed a great deal of mowing – the grass had a water course underneath it and some of it was quite lush. In all, the mowing was a 5 hour task. Although arduous, I used to quite enjoy it. In part, because it was measurable achievement. You could stop part-way and see visually what you had (and had not) accomplished. I would think back on this in later times – especially when I had two preschool children – when it was possible to be constantly busy parenting and juggling all manner of things, but seemingly with nothing to show for it.
These past months – much as I can find plentiful things to enjoy about being “Gainfully Unemployed” – there is still a double-sided ache.
One is the lack of purpose.
The other – just like when you put your fist in a basin of water and then withdraw it – and you can’t see that it was there at all – is whether I even made much of a difference (in my years at the school). As the juggernaut continues on without me…. was what I thought I contributed actually wanted?
Was there a point to any of it?
How do we cling onto faith and hope? How do we maintain confidence in ourselves and what we might have to offer, a sense of worth, even, when outside evidence appears to be telling us otherwise?
In the last couple of years I have reconnected with a handful of people from the past – “Old Friends” if you will – after not communicating with each other, and certainly not seeing each other in person for ten, fifteen or more years. In November 2014, I attended, in Adelaide, my 30 year school reunion which was a typically formal catch-up and opportunity to see where the years had taken a number of people.
But, for me, the greatest impact was to see again two significant teachers, and have the opportunity to thank them for the influence they had on my younger life, and let them know how important they had been to me.
More recently I have met up with other individuals, including, this month, a girlfriend who I went to Primary School with. I am certain I attended Sue’s brother’s 21st Birthday, but not sure we have seen each other since about 1990 – that’s a good 26 years.
When contemplating meeting up with somebody after more than half your lifetime apart, female vanity kicks in and I guess you are acutely aware of things like being a few pounds heavier and having changed your hairstyle. But when the meeting actually happened, the conversation flowed easily and the time together just flew by. It seemed impossible, sitting on my back patio, that Sue and I had not seen each other for longer in our lives than the ages we were when we were last together. And we made plans to certainly not leave it so long before getting together again.
There is something special about someone who knows you from long ago, and perhaps the fact that they DID know you as a “bright young thing” before life hit, that their clearer memory and “knowledge” of you is still at a younger, more vital, perhaps more openly more successful, higher achieving time, when your lives were all ahead of you and optimistic and full of potential. Their view of you transports you back in time and enables you to see in yourself the person that you once were – and still are – beneath the layers of the intervening time.
Equally I have made two recent visits – in October and January down to Victoria, where I have spent time with my relatives – Aunts/Uncles/Cousins, and people dear to me from various walks of life where I previously lived in Ararat. (200km west of Melbourne).
In this most recent visit I shared the Joy of a friend’s country wedding where the Bride was joined by her own family, including her four sisters who had all flown in from points Interstate and Overseas.
Being surrounded by “Old Friends” who know me well, by family – relatives – who have known me all my life, and, back here, by newer friends who also care and understand, has made, for me, all the difference. When someone else refuses to give up on you, even if you seem ready to give up on yourself, the other person’s affirmation can renew you, make you reassess what you think about yourself, and lead you to see yourself more as the other person sees you.
I have been humbled and honoured by people who have stood by me, spent time, listened, talked, laughed with me, cried with me, allowed me to vent, made plans, talked me into things, assured me that things are Okay, assured me that I am Okay.
And for those who have made me feel appreciated, and needed, and valued, especially at times when I have felt none of those things, I Thank You.
Although we are already a fortnight into January, 2017 is still in its Infancy.
May I charge you all: to hug your family members closely and often. Tell your friends how important they are to you. Verbalise to your colleagues when they have done something right – and praise them for it. Be quick to commend, and slow to criticise, rather than the other way around.
Be a little warmer, be a little kinder, be a little gentler with each other.
And with yourselves as well.
As Fox Mulder would say:
I Want to Believe.