[The majority of this post was written on November 12th, 2012]
“You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.” – From the movie, The Way.
Ever since I returned to the States after nearly two months abroad in Africa, something has not been clicking in my everyday life; I have been off…something is missing. Between the things I saw, the people I met, and the death of my stepfather, I knew the summer I spent teaching in northern Uganda would change my life; what I did not know was the profound effects it would have and in what way those effects would take place. The trip wrecked my life in the most unconventional way possible.
I told myself that I did not want to be the same person, nor would I be the same person upon my arrival back to America. Yet, I have somehow managed to fall into the same routine I had before I left for Africa. I wake up between 3:50 and 4:15 every morning and I am at the gym by 4:50. I work out for an hour, I come back and shower and get ready for work and drive to work. I spend my day teaching and after school I am almost certainly involved with some sort of extracurricular activity or meeting. I get home between six and eight in the evening, eat dinner and talk with my roommates. By nine o’clock I am in bed ready to repeat it all over again the next day. My life has turned into my very own Groundhog’s Day.
Is that it? Is that all there is to life given our present society? Following a routine…working…going through the motions. I wake up every day and work hard only to barely scrape by because of the low salary of a young teacher combined with massive student loan debt. It is boring. It is mundane. It is stressful. It is not for me. Do not get me wrong…I enjoy my job for the most part…I enjoy my students…I enjoy my colleagues…I love coaching… but is this really all there is? Is this what I will be doing every week for the rest of my adult life as I patiently wait for death to come (because I certainly will never be able to retire given my debt from college)? Is this mind-numbingly, boring life the life I chose?
There has got to be more…
I took Friday off from work last week. I had worked more than twelve hours each of the first four days of the week with various commitments after school each night. Monday we had an away basketball game which the bus did not even arrive back to the school until seven at night. Tuesday I had to coach basketball practice and then I held a meeting from six to seven regarding the non-profit, Educate for Change. Wednesday after school we had another basketball practice which I followed by spending two and a half hours at the high school recruiting eighth graders to play softball next year at their showcase night; I did not get home until after nine that night. Thursday I volunteered to run the scoreboard at the eighth grade home basketball games; luckily I made it home in time for the Colts/Jaguars game that night.
I may sound like I am whining, but I am not. I know many people work more than twelve hours a day every day and I was no stranger to it either. Late nights were normal during softball season so I was used to it all. This situation, however, was different; it was all starting to catch up with me. Everything was catching up with me: The decision to teach during the summer instead of relax…traveling…my father’s death…lack of sleep… the anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. I was on an adrenaline high while I was in Africa, able to handle everything that came my way. Now however, I was spent, and I knew it. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. The strength which I had prided myself on all summer had disappeared.
I took Friday off from hoping I could relax and get my head back on straight. I was hoping to catch up on some sleep, but unfortunately Thursday night and Friday morning did not provide a good avenue for sleeping. I was so worried about not having a substitute take my last minute absence that I was constantly checking it throughout the Colts game. When I went to sleep, there was still no substitute teacher and anxiety took over. I had dream after dream of no adult watching over my classes and being sanctioned by the Principal.
I decided to go to the store and buy food and walk around, and that is when it happened; I was walking through the DVD section after I had finished with the grocery side of the store. As I was perusing the various aisles, I saw a movie titled, The Way. I had watched this movie a few months before I went to Africa and it hit a nerve with me back then. The movie, starring Martin Sheen, is about a father who loses his son. His son died during a storm in the Pyrenees Mountains as he was hiking El Camino de Santiago. Instead of taking the body back to America, Marin Sheen’s character cremates his son’s body and hikes the trail, sprinkling ashes along the way. I needed an inspirational pick up, so I snagged the movie from the shelf and went to the checkout line.
In the first few minutes of the movie, there is a conversation between Martin Sheen’s character and his son. His son is begging him to take a few weeks off of work and come travelling with him. Martin Sheen, being an optometrist, has the money to travel but refuses his son’s offer. He tells his son, “This is the life I chose to live.”
His son’s reply: “You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.”
I guess the questions remain: How do you live a life when you’re stuck with toxic student loan debt on a teacher’s salary? How does someone live a life if they are an accountant and they are working 70 hours per week during tax season? How does someone truly live if they are commuting over an hour each direction to work and he or she hardly ever gets to see his or her family? How can a person say they live life to the fullest when the majority of it is spent on the couch?
Sometimes I just stand in the hallway of the middle school where I work and observe the kids. I watch them interact and I listen to their conversations. Many have gone through rough patches in their lives, but for the most part they are happy. They are full of energy, joy and ambition. They are ignorant to many of the realities that the “real world” has to offer. They think that a horrible day would be to get thirty minutes of homework or to have their phone taken again. Most of them are not shy when you get them talking and they do not have any sort of filter. They embarrass easily over silly situations and yet do not get embarrassed at all when the “adult me” would be embarrassed. They are confident and feel invincible. They can focus all of their energy and attention sports and school, innocently flirt, and be surrounded by their friends all day. I used to be one of those kids…now, sometimes I envy them. What happened? Maybe the true tragedy in life is that we have to grow up.
When did I get so careful? What happened to taking risks and adventure? Why do I constantly find myself back in a comfort zone that I despise? …a comfort zone which depresses me?
I am ready to start living again, although I am not quite sure how to anymore. Maybe I need to turn to the wisdom offered in a middle school hallway for direction.