“There are just some kind of men who—who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to living in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” ~Miss Maudie Atkinson, To Kill a Mockingbird
Most of you know I am a high school English teacher in an American public school. Each year my freshman read and analyze Harper Lee’s social and literary masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. Like many human beings with a conscience, I love this novel, and would strongly consider giving a hypothetical daughter the name Harper in honor of this woman who gave us the moral and ethical guide that is Atticus Finch.
Each year, I reread the novel along with the students and each year I fall more in love with it and each year I look at the novel on a deeper level. This year, it has affected me in a much different way. This year I turned 33 and in the months leading up to my birthday I have been stuck in a deep valley of the stickiest, most shoe ruinous of Bubblelicious one could imagine. So many of my favorite figurative shoes have been ruined, and it’s completely my fault.
I am in a place I never thought I’d be. At no point in my alternative rock loving, argumentative, rule following, parent pleasing youth did I ever think I would be where I am at present. I was going to be a well-known and successful political speech writer, or a movie star, I was okay with either one. I was going to live somewhere other than Missouri. I was going to be married to a doctor or fellow movie star. I was going to have a couple of toe-headed children who were brilliant and adorable and so well behaved people would complement my parenting in public.
At 33, I am married. He’s not a doctor, though sometimes he plays one, and as a former firefighter, paramedic, and a combat veteran he does have a nice foundation of medical knowledge. However, the combat veteran part of his identity is the part that has most colored mine, and as it turns out, I look absolutely terrible in olive drab green. It was in the black aftermath of the olive drab I lost my sense of fashion and direction.
At 33, and married for ten years, we have no children. If you would ever like to feel like you are from another planet, please try being a married military wife in the Midwest without children. The look of sheer pity and the “what kind of monster are you” expression are faces with which I quite familiar. We don’t have children for a number of reasons, none of which are anyone’s business, regardless of anyone’s incessant insistence to the contrary.
At 33, I am a teacher. It is not where I am supposed to be. I know this on a cellular level. I spend my days stressed, not because I am intellectually taxed, but because I am emotionally cashed out. I get home and I have nothing left for my husband and nothing left for me. I know I am supposed to be doing something that feeds my brain, and teaching just doesn’t. I am not entirely sure what my particular brain diet should contain yet, but I am working on it.
At 33, I am tired of feeling stuck. I am tired of not living for me in this life. Upon some serious self-introspection, which is awesome and completely painful, I have come to begin to understand what I need. I need intellectual nourishment: books, art, lectures, museums, architecture. I need to create: books, essays, cakes, cookies, meatloaves, and perhaps life too. I need to challenge: my mind, authority, friends, family, my body.
I have realized that I have been stuck because I stuck myself. I made choices, some good, some not so good. I gave up living just so I could survive the suck that was my existence. In other words, I got lazy; I quit fighting. That was a poor choice for me, but perhaps a temporarily necessary one at the time.
Now, I am scraping the gum from my soles in order to move out of existence and into living now. So instead of continuing this subsistence diet of procrastination and putting it off and simply not doing, I am much more conscious of what goes into this body. The payoff for this kind of diet isn’t something that will come later, it’s right now, it’s the doing. It’s the choices I make, it’s the preparation I do, and it’s moments that the beef burns, but the broccoli is perfect, and the cake is beyond incredible.
Finally, I think the meal is coming together.