Happy September, my friends! Today I have some good news and some good news. Which would you like to hear first? Okay, I’ll start with the good news. My freshman-in-high-school son has now made it through two full weeks and so far has: figured out how to take the bus there and back (mostly), learned how to open and close his locker (sort of), found people to sit with at lunch (the hardest thing about high school, in my opinion), met a girl who has drawn his name on her notebooks and binders (of which I hope she has more because it seems a bit early in the game to make that kind of commitment), not gotten anyone pregnant, not contracted an STD, and has actually spoken enthusiastically about a few of his classes. Thank ya, Jesus!
The second piece of good news is that because of my scared, neurotic and slightly self-obsessed last post, the universe reminded me of an ultimate truth: if you ask for help, you will get it. In this case, the help was in the form of what I think of as the emotional “big guns” in my family—my older and wiser female relatives. One of them (I would tell you who it was but I’m afraid she would be embarrassed) called me a few days after she read the post and said, “When I read that, all I could think was, ‘Girlfriend needs some HELP!'” And I so did. I didn’t realize how emotional this high school transition was going to be for me until I started writing about it.
Having raised two sons herself, having understood anxiety, and also being a very knowledgeable educator, she gave me some fantastic practical advice, as well as some incredibly valuable emotional support, which I didn’t even know I needed until I slowly started feeling it melt away the cold, lonely, worried places inside of me. Like liquid sunshine. Like a blessing. Like love.
In his poem, “Sweet Darkness,” David Whyte writes: “When your eyes are tired/the world is tired also./When your vision has gone/no part of the world can find you.” What he means is that when you can’t see beyond yourself, you can’t see anything at all. When you are too exhausted by looking at everything and everyone the same way, you can’t see anything or anyone for what it really is. And what it really is is usually something magical and unexpected, or at the very least, not at all what we kept insisting that it was.
Also, when he writes, “no part of the world can find you,” he is reminding us that when we keep showing up in our lives the same old ways, the same old things will happen. When we don’t bring our real, curious, frightened, brave, clear-eyed selves out into the world, the world cannot see us, cannot meet us, cannot welcome us into it. Even though, as Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” reminds us, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,/the world offers itself to your imagination,/calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—/over and over announcing your place/in the family of things,” we have to listen in order to hear this invitation.
This week at work, I was involved in a tiny, annoying interpersonal conflict. The kind of petty, catty, gossipy stuff I cannot stand. As a result, I had to have two conversations with coworkers that could have been hard and unpleasant, but instead turned out to be hard and very pleasant, i.e. incredible learning opportunities. I realized something about one of my coworkers–someone I’ve known for 10 years and have never gotten on with–an emotional similarity that connects us in a way I never imagined was possible. And it changed everything. Her supervisor helped us through an awkward misunderstanding because she knew we needed help. We needed help and we got it. And whereas previously we would have taken pains to avoid one another, our encounters ended with us each saying, “If you ever need anything from me, please don’t be afraid to ask. If I can help, I will.” More blessings.
All summer I’ve been advising students, which is a new job responsibility for me. I have asked approximately seventeen million questions of people as I’ve been learning how to do this job. Yesterday, I asked one of my colleagues if you ever stop feeling like an idiot doing this work, because honestly, it’s starting to get a little tedious. He said no. “But don’t worry, we all feel like idiots. That’s why we ask each other for help all the time.”
So here’s my September Heart of the Month challenge to you: think about help. When you need (or needed) it, when you get (or got) it, when you ask (or asked) for it and when you don’t (or didn’t), when you give (or gave) it and when you don’t (or didn’t). And then write in and tell me about it. Let’s see what we can discover. Let’s see what we can give our hearts to.
Here’s a poem by Thomas Smith called, appropriately for our challenge, “Trust.” I hope you like it as much as I do, and, as always, I love that you’re reading, and I hope you’ll write in!
It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.
The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.
The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.
And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.
Thomas R. Smith, Waking Before Dawn. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2007
*[Special note: I received an email about an interesting-looking retreat/conference being held in Chicago on October 1-3 called “Write from the Heartland: Unleashing the Power of Language Through Metaphor, Symbol and Story” and wanted to share it with you. The guest speaker is a poet named Haki Madhubuti. FYI: the link takes a few minutes to load.]