It has not been a good year. Economic troubles, second thoughts, regrets, reconsidering my life—all part of reaching mid-life, I guess, although I have always been a person edged in melancholy, harder on myself than any parent, teacher or boss could ever be. The questions persist: what does this all mean? Where are things headed? Am I doing all I can do with my life? I keep hearing Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify.” I find that once I leave the classroom for the day, I do not want to speak. I want to revel in silence, in thinking. More and more, I want to withdraw, to retreat.
The values I hold dear, the parts of life I find most important—the life of the mind—reading, writing, thinking, are things unimportant today in a culture mired in ignorance and materialism. I am at odds with most people I meet, many of my students and their parents, people I used to consider friends. In my forty-sixth year I find that I am inarticulate. When I open my mouth, nothing I say sounds right. So why speak at all. Instead, I should say nothing whenever possible. Or, I have one mouth and two ears; therefore I should listen twice as much as I speak.
Whatever the formula, 2009 is a year that did not work for me. But that is good, and part of being. Imperfection must be embraced, and its companion, impermanence must be welcomed. Yin and Yang, black and white, good and evil—the paradox inherent in everyday living means that there will be good years and bad years. In the end, everything changes, indeed, must change, or die. Even death is a transfiguration. We move on.
I tell stories in the classroom. I teach by two methods, mainly: storytelling and questioning. Often, I use humor. I believe that learning is not an act of drudgery, or shouldn’t be. I believe discovery can be fun, and that by laughing at ourselves we can learn much about the human condition. But the humor masks a deeper pain. Comedians are the saddest people, sometimes. I fight with depression. I am too connected, too invested, too caught up.
Sometimes, we must take a step back and look at our lives. Take stock. Reconsider. In writing, this is revision. Put the story away in a drawer for a day or so. Come back to it with fresh eyes. This is also how we must live.
Passion is a double-edged sword. Stoicism tells us to not let our passions rule our behavior. I struggle with this concept, although I deeply admire it. Emotional control is an act of great effort for me, requiring strength I often do not possess in abundance. But there it is: things are going to go wrong; disappointments will come; and darkness shares equal space with the light.
So here we are on the cusp of a new decade. I feel in my heart that some change is coming, but then change is always coming. Not much of a prediction on my part. There is never a moment when we are fully grown up. We are always considering Frost’s diverging paths in the woods. We will always have “miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep,” until we die and pass on to whatever is to come.
I hope 2010 brings new opportunities, moments of clarity, love, peace. In my darkest times, I must remember to trust in the future and let things come. The lessons of The Art of War by Sun Tzu are clear: a warrior waits for his moment, in rain, snow, heat, pain, suffering, disappointment, a warrior waits. And when the time comes, he is ready for whatever life brings. That is the way we must live. That is the only way to proceed.