The holiday season and the end of the year always seem to invite one to look back over the events of the year and the memories created. We remember loved ones who are no longer with us. It is a time of reflection on who we are and how life is going for us.
In that spirit, I have some confessions to make, though it is going to take me a moment to get there. I want to first say that a lot went great this year! My family is simply amazing – I am in awe of the ways the boys are growing and changing every day, and I am proud of the accomplishments my husband has made in his own journey this year. I have returned to school to work toward my M.Ed., and I feel like I have embarked on an incredible journey of growth and learning! Things have seemed to be going beautifully in so many ways!
Throughout this year, though, I found myself struggling. Even for a self-proclaimed and proud workaholic, I spent too many hours at school. I dashed from one deadline to another, feeling like nothing I was doing was of the quality I wanted it to be. Since I was young, I could hear two voices in my head: my mom’s encouraging me to always do the best I could, and a second one informing me that no matter what, it wasn’t good enough – that I wasn’t good enough. And that voice was really loud this year. I would wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing with adrenaline, gripped by panic that I had more I needed to do than the available hours allowed. On more than one occasion, I found myself at the school, surrounded by the literal and figurative darkness of 3AM. Exhaustion, anxiety, and a deep soul-weariness trudged beside me like unwelcome companions.
And, not to turn this into a political post, it feels like this year also revealed darkness and ugliness – racism, sexism, violence, and apathy to those things – in our country that had previously been a bit more concealed; it feels like chips and cracks in the country’s attractive veneer have given us glimpses of something rotting and stinking beneath the surface. And it scares me. I am frightened for my own children and for the children I teach. The world seems so brutal and bleak at times, and it is hard to cling to hope for the future when surrounded by so much trite celebrity drivel while horrific violence so often seems glossed over.
There were days when I felt hopeless. Even when surrounded by my family or friends, whom I love beyond words, there were times when the thought of waking up the next day filled me with stomach-churning dread and anxiety. This is difficult for me to confess, because it means that all of those things that I associate with my own identity are kind of in shambles and it leaves me feeling extremely vulnerable.
But I am confessing it.
I am doing so because I know that I am not alone in feeling like this. Maybe the circumstances are different. Perhaps the inner voices speak different words. But throughout this year, I have listened to young adults who feel alone and worthless and unloved, children who are dealing with “adult issues” forced on them by the people who should be there to shelter and protect them instead, adults who are struggling to just keep going. Many times, these people too look like they have everything – that life is good. And, sadly, that is not always the case. Too many people are hurting and feeling alone.
I am fortunate that I have an incredible network of people who surround me with love. It has seemed that the darkest moments have turned others into small points of light. Sometimes that light took the form of a coworker who just allowed me to vent about a moment of frustration – and there were several! Small, personal gifts that let me know I was in someone’s thoughts filled my heart to bursting at various times. Another time, it was a hug from a student before break, saying she would miss me during the two weeks off. Sometimes, it was just a smile and nod of understanding. However, combined, these small lights became brilliant beacons.
And that’s the thing. All these acts are individually small and most cost nothing, but they had tremendous impact in helping me to get through a time of darkness; moreover, I am absolutely positive none of them knew how much those moments meant – how much I valued them. This year, while bleak in so many ways, was also made up of countless acts of kindness like these from others – thousands of tiny gifts of light they had no idea they were giving – gifts that helped me to keep going. And I know that some of those gift-givers were in need of such presents themselves.
I know how easy it is to get caught up in our own chaos and busy-ness, to miss opportunities to make a significant difference in the lives of those around us. Sometimes, we aren’t even aware that a person is going through bad times. When so much in the world seems to be heading down a dark path, I think it is even more important to find the ways to spread light. Smile at others more, folks. Give hugs. Share a word of encouragement. Be there – be present – be mindful of the moments as they pass, seeing the opportunities presented in each to give or receive a gift of love, of comfort, of life.
Wishing you all love and light through this season.
I want to acknowledge the beautiful art in this post. The card of the mother and children titled “Home” was created by Katie m. Berggren at www.KmBerggren.com. The angel ornament was created by Jan Codorniz. Please head over to their sites to view more of their work!