I wrote last year about the difficulty of coming back from surgery in the middle of the school year. Now I wonder if it was just the surgery, or perhaps it is something else? Maybe I am just getting past the point where I have the energy, desire, or optimism it takes to work in what can be the wasteland of public education.
I have had a surfeit of support this in some ways this year. Some past students have contacted me. Despite a couple of very ugly parents I have gotten to deal with, another parent asked me not to look at retiring too soon because “I have other kids coming up and they need you…”. I have been told I was liked, I have been told I was disliked. I have been told I am a leader, I have been told I am insubordinate, but I don’t think any teacher, administrator, teacher, or student has ever told me “you are needed”. “Needed” for what I wonder?
While I have been pondering mental and physical fatigue, and wondering if I will ever get ‘it’ back again I have been also wondering what I would do instead. Despite my internship in pastoral ministry, lay pastoral ministers in my denomination barely exist, much less get paid.
Strangely enough, some of this started taking shape for me while I was watching Grey’s Anatomy last week, a particularly grim episode which culminated with a young woman having to watch one parent die, remove another from life support and wait while he died, and then tell her younger siblings they were now orphans, all this on her 18th birthday.
I almost turned off the episode. It reminded me of far too many times in my life when I was the one who got to tell friends or relatives that someone they loved had died. I was a bit surprised when totals started coming into my mind. It has been many, many times. I have done other things, harder things than telling, at the times of sudden deaths, but I still can’t discuss them much less write about them. All of the deceased were known to me.
I thought of other hard things I had done professionally as a Marine, teacher, or emerging minister. I wondered ‘why me?’ Why do I seem to be the one when something happens who gets asked to do the hard things? I can honestly say that I asked without bitterness or the feeling of being any sort of victim; I just wonder about strange things I guess.
Then an answer came from somewhere, phrased in the second person strangely enough, the answer was “because you will…. Really? Is that what it is? James Joyce wrote about the eternal “yes” in Ulysses. I had never looked at it that way, but I it is true. I will not ask someone to do something terrible if I can spare them the pain of doing so, and it has always been that way. Then I began to wonder why.
Three days later I happened to be the second person to arrive on the scene of a trailer fire. I saw a young man I had just met leading a young woman away from the fire, and then he headed back towards the house. I found out the woman’s sister was still inside so I followed the young man. The young man met the other person as she came out the door so we did not have to enter, but we would have. We restrained the young women who wanted to go back in after pets. The police and fire department arrived a few minutes later. Now I do not wonder why John and I were placed there at that time and place, it is because “you will”. As the volunteer firefighters arrived, and the police secured the others I gave thanks for others who will. Maybe that is the missing link, maybe I was told you are needed because I was also told because you will. Maybe that is the question I need to consider, not ‘can I do it?” but ‘will I do it?” I already know the answer to that, I will if someone needs to.