Friday, August 31, 2007

It Has Begun and I'm Not Calm Anymore!

Need I say more? (Not really, but I will.)

Classes started on Thursday. Normally I kind of have fun on the first few days of a new academic year. This time I have had flashes of the kind of fun I normally have, but interlaced with that have been other moments of a different sense. That other sense is difficult to describe: not jadedness, but wariness maybe.

I realize now that for years when the painful things happened in my work I thought if I learned well from them then I could prevent them from ever happening again. Gradually, I'd eliminate them one by one until finally achieving Perfection, and nothing painful would ever happen again! (Well, put like that I would have known better than to believe this, but there's a way that this unarticulated assumption pervaded my outlook and my approach to my work.)

Now I know I cannot prevent painful things from happening. Some painful things that have happened in the past will happen again. And some new and unpredicted painful things will happen too! So instead of trying to prevent painful things from happening, my orientation has shifted to trying to become a stronger person who deals well with the pain that comes my way.

This is just part of some deeper change I sense happening in my soul. As I go through the now-familiar start of semester rituals, what I am most aware of is how much I feel like a different person this year. I'm not sure I fully understand yet why I have changed, or what exactly those changes are.

Despite the title of this posting, I still do feel mostly calm. But when my energy rises, it rises more quickly and takes clearer shape than it used to (this is part of my change). I used to be slow to anger (taking a winding path through self-flagellation first), and hesitant even to move fully into joy. Yesterday I found myself quick to anger in two situations that in fact warranted anger (but I think I handled those situations well). And today I was quick to joy: I headed for class initially with a little trepidation, but then instantly changed into Cheerful First Day Prof as soon as I entered the classroom.

So, yes, it has begun. And I'm giddy and unsettled and have flashes of panic but also flashes of hopeful joy. It will be interesting to see what this year brings.


  1. CS,

    Since I'm about twenty years older than you are and in the same profession I often find myself reading your posts and sayning "Oh, I remember that feeling." I'm not sure how much of the Christian worldview you identify with but I find that the new life that we seek and experience is not a pleasure cruise. We are to accept the pain that life throws at us and the pain isn't some bitter pill you swallow to get over it. It's woven deeply into the fabric of the human condition. Consciously accepting pain when it is necessary is to overcome it.

  2. I have closed so many doors in my past, thinking I could leave the pain of those times behind me. This has actually mostly worked for me, so it surprises me when pain comes back up. It is easier for me to accept that discrete painful situations will come again, than to accept
    that threads of pain will be woven through my life, tying past with present and future, although that is what I often experience.

  3. Thanks so much for your comments. Yes, I am more and more convinced that trying to suppress or deny pain usually leads to unwittingly deflecting that pain back out for others now to have to deal with. But there is something redemptive in learning how to accept pain. Those who learn to accept and process their own pain transform it, and in doing so have a subtle but real healing effect on the world.