Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Threshhold of Happiness

Lately I’ve been feeling that peace is within my reach--that I’m right on the cusp of freedom. I’ve lived so long with fear as a companion, dogging my steps--that pit-of-the-stomach dread that always floated at the periphery of my thoughts. Now I want to grab ahold and give it a good shaking, see if it’s a real dog or a phantom.

I’ve been noticing my own happiness. Yesterday, I reveled in the wind, which all but blew me over on the top deck of the ferry. I am happy when I’m teaching, happy when I’m planning lessons, happy when I’m having a conversation with a student, happy when I’m reading or writing, happy when I’m riding my bike. I’m even happy when I’m budgeting or cleaning the house. I was surprised to realize that I am happy almost all the time now.

The fear comes when I believe I am about to fail, to be irresponsible, to disappoint others, to look unprofessional. The fear comes from the things that are yet undone—the things that interrupt my thoughts with the menace of my neglect.

I have stopped using the word “procrastinate.” It is a useless word. I really don’t procrastinate, which would assume that I have loads of leisure time and that the one important thing is the thing I am avoiding. There is more than one important thing and as I pay attention to each one, I am not able to work on the others. That’s reality.

What I have done, though, is hide from the things that scare me. I may make lesson plans instead of calling my dad, or counsel a friend instead of making lesson plans. I may clean the kitchen instead of paying the bills. What seems to scare me the most is being scared—of fear wrapping its tentacles around me and not letting go. (Yes, I see that the dog now has tentacles. It is a very scary dog.)

I have only recently realized that not everyone lives with anxiety at the back of their thoughts. Since I’m experiencing expanses of time without it, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s possible to be rid of it for good.

I’m trying to pay attention to the pit of my stomach—to notice when and why I am afraid. Right now I am edgy, nervous. My hands are clammy. It’s because I’m thinking of people reading this—of being shameless enough to post it instead of keeping it in my journal.

Shameless is not the word, though. The word is shame. And that’s an interesting thing. A few months ago I was late picking my son up from an after-school event. Twice. I’ve struggled with time all my life. And I’m ashamed of this. My lateness not only distressed my son, but it kept the teacher and parent volunteers waiting. One of the parents came out to my van to tell me that I simply couldn’t be late. I told her that I didn’t think my tardiness was okay and that I was mortified. She said, “Oh, all right. That’s good, then.”

And it struck me that we think it’s good for people to be ashamed. And maybe it is. Maybe I need to feel the pain of the trouble I cause to others. But I don’t know if I need to feel it all the time. I don’t know if I need to let it define me. And I don’t know if my shame is truly of benefit to anyone else.

I told one of my dear young writers how often I feel like a complete failure and she laughed. She was astonished. Her perception of me is different. She looks up to me. And I want her to. She, too, struggles with anxiety and I want to cut a path for her through that wilderness. I want for her to believe we don’t need to live in fear.

That’s why it’s so important to me that I find the honesty, clarity and courage that seem to be so close. I want to hold on to my happiness while I am facing down my fears. I am feeling fear now. God help me.


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