What do you do when everything feels hopeless? Like we’re born, life beats us around, and then we die kind of hopeless?
They asked me to cover a class again at work. They’re asking everyone to cover everyone else’s classes these days. There are no subs. We’re supposed to spin gold out of straw. My colleagues walk around with vacant looks in their eyes, desperate to find a sense of normalcy in whatever this is that we find ourselves in. Everyone is pushing for normalcy, but we are not okay. We are pumped full of toxic positivity. Everything is great! Do it for the kids! You’re great! In reality, our veins pulse with something that is not okay. I’m not sure any of us can pinpoint what exactly is plaguing us, draining our energy, sucking out our souls, but I’m sure smart psychologists will tell us one day.
It’s not normal, whatever this is.
As I write this, my chest is tight. I can’t quite catch my breath sometimes. I’ve been biting my lip like crazy under my mask, my mind spinning non-stop. I don’t have a babysitter right now. I’ve tried to overcompensate for a year stuck in our home, letting the kids do a variety of activities, which has taken a toll on me. Work is not normal. My social life is not normal. Just when I thought only parenting couldn’t get any tougher, it feels insurmountable at times. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my children. It’s just that I want the best possible outcomes for their futures, and I’m worried I won’t be able to provide that for them with just one of me. That I’ll drop too many balls. That I’m not strong enough to face the odds stacked against us. That I’ll lose my mind one of these days or drop dead from a heart attack before they are independent adults.
You see, this pandemic has been the strangest experience. It has basically set me back several years. The Montessori preschool education I paid for? Down the toilet after 15 months of Zoom School. Friendships I had? People have strayed into different directions, new lives, their paths no longer intersect with my own. I feel like I’m starting from scratch in many ways. Our temple is still closed for in-person services. In some ways life feels like it went back to the way it was, but in so many other ways life is not back to normal. I’m still constantly assessing risk, like today at the pizza place, where half the patrons were masked and the other half unmasked and I was trying to figure out what to do. And why was I at this new pizza place? Oh, because my usual spot closed down a few weeks ago. Just like a number of other businesses. Starting from scratch. I come home to math worksheets reminding me of what my kid needs to hurry up and learn because everyone is behind and society is not going to tolerate behind, and yesterday while waiting for the kids to get out of school, I had a father scold me about my son messing around in the boring baseball practice and mansplaining to me what I need to do about it. When I opened my mouth to try to defend myself from his massive passing of judgement…sorry I didn’t see it…sorry someone else was there for me and didn’t tell me…sorry I’m a widowed single mother to this child who hasn’t had a father figure since he was 13-months-old…he said, “I know, but you need to be there.”
You need to be there.
I cried. Pretty much for 24 hours straight.
You need to be there.
I wish I could clone myself and be there every second for every child at every moment. I leave a piece of my heart all over the place and I am hollow inside from trying to do the best I can. I don’t need a stranger to tell me where I need to be or what I need to do, or point out the ways that I am failing. I’m literally killing myself trying to be there.
“They don’t care,” my friend said. “They’ll just say they have problems too. Everyone has problems.”
I know. I get it. But…it feels so unfair.
“You’re taking him to heart because you’re tired. Otherwise his words would be nonsense,” she offered wisely.
It’s true. I am so tired. I’m giving it my all and it is not enough for this society. All of my proverbial limbs are amputated and I’m being told to run this marathon faster. Do better.
You need to be there.
I’m a Type A personality. I will literally break my back to do my best. To be accused of not doing my best is the worst insult you could lodge at someone like me. Especially a Type A person with bandages all over her emotional wounds trying desperately not to bleed to death.
Recently I watched the show “Maid” on Netflix. Man. It’s so raw and honest about so many different issues, but the one thing I think the show did a great job of conveying was showing how small acts of kindness can go a long way in a person’s life. This is not an even playing field. An act of kindness can make or break someone’s day. We don’t tend to think about this. We are so hyper focused on our own egos, our own bubbles, our own problems, to see what others are going through. We are conditioned to believe that everything happens because of an individual’s efforts and talent. I admit I’m guilty of these thoughts too. What if we were a bit more generous with others? What if we chose showing grace over judgment as our gut reaction? Believing in best intentions over sinister agendas? What if we chose patience over reaction?
I finished the memoir “Ladyparts” yesterday. “I’m not the only one,” I thought, closing the book after the final chapter. Another person with their proverbial limbs amputated, expected to run this marathon faster and better.
Like that time my sister told me I might be less lonely if I put myself out there more. What does that mean? Pass out my business card at soccer practice? Who do people think keeps this ship afloat? It must be nice to think everything is so easy out there.
We’re living in an angry world right now. It has gotten worse since the pandemic upturned everyone’s lives.
So I sit here, thinking, am I just going to break my back in this life, age exponentially, and then die? What is the point? Why does it all feel hopeless? What is my purpose?
Simon Sinek argues we should communicate in the world starting with our why. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he famously argues.
I think about that baseball father scolding me. You need to be there. You need to do this. You need to do that.
I’ve heard that my entire life. All of the things I need to be and do.
How do you find your “why” when you’ve felt not good enough throughout your entire life? People like me can scrape together a why, but is it our why? Don’t you have to unearth the real you before you can articulate an authentic why? How do I know my “why” isn’t somebody else’s why and I just think it’s my why? How do you know your why isn’t linked to your insecurities, your wounded inner child, that you are not trying to prove something to the world that really has no objective meaning or purpose.
Being human is messy. I think being a woman is sometimes torturous. Am I really exercising at 5AM for my own health, or do I believe society expects me to look my best as a woman? I try to find the answer, but in the end I don’t really know. I’m a single mother. I don’t have the luxury of oozing unwavering confidence as I navigate everyone’s social circles.
My daughter is reading “Charlotte’s Web” in school. As a 12th grade teacher, I’ve always compared the end scene, when Charlotte’s babies fly off and leave Wilbur behind, as how I got used to my students leaving at the end of the year. Eventually you get used to getting close to people, and then having them leave forever. It does something to the way you attach (or not attach) your heartstrings. Add in a dead husband or whatever other loss you’ve had, and you really get good at avoiding hitching your heartstrings to anything else.
In the end, I think our “why” is to live meaningful lives as sentient beings. This requires us to build our resilience. It demands that we apply self-reflection.
Resilience is what keeps us afloat when everyone and everything we love is taken away and we still have more life to live. It’s what helps us glue broken hearts back together. To repel mean baseball dads lacking empathy. To reflect when we’ve been the mean person. To realize when we need to do better, and to actually do better, little bits at a time.
Resilience reminds us in those Charlotte’s Web moments that even when our loved ones are gone, there are still so many other people who need to be loved, so many more experiences to be had, so many more ups and downs in this journey to experience. That it is okay to take a risk and hitch your heartstrings to something that may not last. It’s supposed to be that way.
My son is learning addition and subtraction. I was trying to explain the importance of practice, so I tried to bring in math (as much as a history teacher can accomplish this).
“Zero,” he shouted proudly.
Five is more than zero, I pointed out. So we always want to do little bits of effort regularly, because it adds up to a lot after a while.
You can move mountains with first grade addition.
I’m trying to remind myself of this as I get overwhelmed. 1+1+1+1+1. That’s the path I need to follow.
It’s hard though. You have to tune out the voices around you, the demands placed on you, the pressure and commitments and distractions that consume you. Basically, you have to build a giant wall around yourself and appoint the most scrupulous observing ego to guard that gate, because this world is pure chaos.
I turn 40 in four months. I feel like I should be further along in this journey by this age, but here I am. Still practicing.
Things I am trying to get better at: not caring what anyone thinks, letting Future Teresa worry about a problem, taking risks, and applying my “would I trade lives?” question whenever pity and self-loathing sets in.
How many more decades until I get it right? Likely the rest of my life. Maybe that’s the point of all of it.
In the United States, our Declaration of Independence famously has language that we’re all created with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This is a socially constructed expectation– happiness.
We are conditioned to constantly project a state of happiness. At work, they want us to be positive. On social media, we’re supposed to impress family and friends with how happy we are!
When you think about it, happiness is not sustainable. It ebbs and flows. Trying to maintain a constant state of happiness is impossible. Basically, society is pressuring us to do something we can never attain.
Meaningful is a different story. Meaningful is experiencing the good and the bad. Learning. Reflecting. Trying to do better. Fixing. Learning some more. Trying. Being vulnerable. Living authentically. Messing up. Laughing. Crying. A spectrum of experiences and emotions. Connection. Looking back and thinking, yes. That was my life. I wouldn’t trade a thing.
So when I begin to wallow in my “what is the point of all of this” woes, I guess I remind myself that pursuing what is meaningful requires 1+1+1+1+1.
This is all practice.
I am still learning.
Maybe it’s supposed to be this way.