We live in a messy world. It’s confusing and exhausting, and at times, it wears me down to my core.
I’d say the past year and a half has been the hardest time of my life. My mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis shook me harder than anything I’ve ever experienced. My father’s withdrawal from reality didn’t help. I’ve spent more time curled up under the covers watching marathons of Friends than I’d like to admit. But my troubles, while earth-shattering to me, are not that uncommon. They are a part of the balance, the ebb and flow that breaks down our spirit and builds it back up.
This balance is what buoys us and keeps us going. While I hesitate to label this as fate and proceed to claim that the universe has a plan for us all, I am a great deal more comfortable suggesting that the universe provides nudges to usher us in the right direction when we need it. This is preferable to a plan because nudges present us with decisions, which we are responsible for acting upon.
This, however, does not mean that these decisions are not incredibly difficult. They are messy and exhausting, as well. Yet, they are necessary in helping us find our way.
Last September, I found myself sinking amidst the impossible bureaucratic demands recently placed on the middle school at which I worked. The demands had been increasing with each school year, but this year it was as if politicians were designing the curriculum. Nothing made sense. The testing demands on teachers and students were suffocating. The accountability placed on teachers was crushing. What formerly had been a place of learning and joy, transformed into a rigid series of assessments executed on archaic and unreliable technology. As student and teacher morale slipped, my sense of purpose slipped along with it. I lost myself for a while because what I was being forced to teach wasn’t valuable to the students. And it seemed that every time I rallied, policy makers instituted more restrictions.
I was drowning.
In a prior post, I mentioned a similar experience in which I felt as though I was drowning, and my involuntary action was to take a breath—because that’s what I needed most to get me through the moment.
Well, the universe offered me a lot more than a breath in this instance. For, on one of my lowest days, a friend called out of the blue to inform me of a teaching position at the high school level. Now, you can doubt fate all you want, but I refuse to deny that the universe was doing some serious nudging in this case.
Even at the time, I knew it was one of those life-altering decisions that determine the course of your future. But that fact didn’t make it one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
No, what made it so was that taking the position meant I was leaving during the school year. I had to say goodbye to all of my current classes. I had to face the disappointment of my administrators, coworkers, and students. I had to accept that I was burning bridges in a world where job security is sacred.
Then, I had to get up before the sun, drive a distance, feel like the new kid on campus, and wait weeks for a new group of students to accept me.
I complained a lot. I cried a lot. I doubted myself even more.
It took me a really long time to realize and embrace the change as the right decision. Now, I know that it was undoubtedly the right thing to do. I have found myself again because of the people I met and the opportunities I’ve been given at this new school. I know this is the path I’m supposed to be on right now, but it doesn’t change how difficult it was to alter my direction from what was familiar.
The other day, a friend, who supported me all along the way, admitted that if we could go back and do it over again, she’d tell me to stay at the middle school. While I was irritated with her statement, her heart was in the right place. She just wanted to shelter me from the frustration and doubt.
I regret that I didn’t have the right words then. Because if I did, I would have told her that life is messy and exhausting, but we can’t ignore the opportunities presented to us. Those opportunities, while truly difficult, have the potential to be incredibly rewarding.
It would be particularly tidy if I could conclude with a “happily ever after” sentiment here. But we all know life doesn’t work that way. My mother’s struggle still clouds the future, I still don’t know how to relate to my dad, and I continue to worry that I’m not accomplishing enough as a writer, but if I pay attention to life’s “nudges” and embrace the messiness that comes with them, I believe I’ll find a way.