This may take a while to write, but as I’m beginning, I’m sitting in a room full of freshmen who are writing an in-class essay. There’s a hum of heavy breathing and pencils on paper and turning of pages as they refer to notes in their books. It seems both familiar and distant.
I have been teaching for a year and a half and still it still catches me unawares sometimes that I’m no longer a student. That I’m no longer passing papers down the row, or digging my binder out of my backpack, or throwing caution to the north wind when an essay prompt is set in front of me. The sun is not slanting through the window in the back corner and warming my back, like it is for the kid who sits by the wall. I am up front driving and pulling and pushing. Sometimes my shoulders hurt at the end of the day from the weight of it.
In the moments when it does get calm, though, calm in the midst of the hourly storm, sometimes I remember myself in high school. I liked it. I was a good kid. I cried a lot but I was happy. I was generally sweet and smart. The best things I did were read and write. Also once I gave twenty dollars to a friend just because she needed it. That was the highlight of my good-doing.
I was sensitive. I used to take in every little thing, feel every motion around me, bend with all my weight. I remember laughing and screaming and crying. I remember really, really caring that people saw me laugh. (I did not care if they saw me cry.) Funny. All of my memories are so loud, even though most of the people I went to high school with probably remember me as quiet.
For the past week or so, I have been feeling stabs of envy toward my students. I wish I was still free to ride the waves of my feelings, wallow in my stinging misery, let wild, self-conscious joy overtake me. When I was a teenager, I was very certain the world was mine. It felt lived in. On selfish days, on narrow days, I look at those loud kids I love, and I want the world back.
This is ludicrous, of course. I have re-written this paragraph five or six times in an attempt to tell you why. I have tried to lead into it several ways, but now I will just give up and tell you. God is bigger now than he was back then. Not always closer or easier or clearer, in fact, sometimes just the opposite, but larger and greater and stronger and more, oh yes. How could I ever return to a diminutive God?
That is not all. I “see the choices a bit more clearly.” When I was sixteen and seventeen, I was only just beginning to believe that failure existed. Now I am at what seems to be the designated age for coming to terms with failure. As is, I think, usual, I am finding failures in myself in droves and having to decide each by each, with every failure that rises out of my gut, whether I will fight it or kneel to it. These are the options. Or they would be the options if I served a God who would fit in my pocket.
But because I do not, there is grace. Because I do not, I may give my failures away. Acknowledge them as my bastard offspring and offer them up for destruction to a God who is very large and getting larger by the second. A God who will break me and change me and shape me as the sun warms the back of the tired, nervous kid who sits by the wall.