Today my first graders sang Raffi’s song “All I Really Need” at the high schoolers’ graduation. It was the cutest thing ever. Sadly, my camera isn’t the best (at taking pictures, and definitely not at taking video), the lighting wasn’t the best, and the sound wasn’t too great either. So basically don’t expect a high-quality vid below (or a very long one for that matter). But nonetheless, regardless of how poor the technology was, my kids really sang their hearts out and I am so proud of them for standing in front of so many people and not being too nervous. I’m going to miss these guys so, so much.
So this semester, as many of you know, has been good for me in so many ways. Spending less time on academics and in meetings, and more time with children and in nature. Getting to run practically everyday and read really good books. Seeing rainbows, parakeets, tarantulas, monkeys, and morphos on the most average of walks. Rediscovering what it means to live with a family, and creating new friendships. My time in Costa Rica has been great.
But I feel like, when I say that, I am not telling the full truth. I have always felt the need to try to keep this space upbeat and positive (there is so much negativity on the internet), but, in truth, the way that I come across on this blog is not always how I feel.
Remember how I wrote that post about realizing how strong I was back in March?
Or that other post a few days ago about choosing how I react to life events?
Or that article I wrote in my college’s Christian discourse journal about loving yourself?
I want to believe each of those messages so much. That I am stronger than I think I am, that I can react gracefully when life gets tough, and that, through everything, I can never stop loving myself.
But I’m a hypocrite. And none of that is completely true.
I still find myself often thinking I’m worthless. That I don’t deserve to be loved.
I still find myself having panic attacks, mostly about my family and going home.
I still find myself not loving myself.
I still get the blues.
I still break down some nights and cry.
I still wonder why I am here.
I still sometimes wish I wasn’t.
And none of that is new. I’ve experienced all of that before. But I thought I owed it to you, as readers, to know all that going on, and not just the good bits and pieces. To be authentic, rather than superficial. To show my true self, for all that it is, rather than be putting on some kind of charade. After all, we’re all human, right? And we’re all broken? As great as positive messages are, they are only that, positive messages, and at the end of the day we’re still the same broken people we were when we were born into this world. We’re still going to screw up, think bad things about ourselves (and others), and not handle life as gracefully as we could. I’m not going to pretend anything different than that.
You guys, for whatever reason, I don’t know why, I’m trying to find the key to happiness, or, at the very least, contentment. But the thing is, stuff keeps getting in the way. The second I think I’m fine or, dare I say it, enjoying how life is going, something happens. Take tonight for example. I had a pretty good day helping teach first graders. Many of them finished writing their first ever poems and tomorrow we’ll be starting on their second ones. I think I’ll be able to get all the interviews I need to get have for my thesis done in time, and I have some pretty good data in my fieldnotes. I cooked empanadas de plantanos con queso with the fellow interns and our Spanish teacher for class after school, and then I went for a pretty magical run in the fog with Snoopy. Just now, I was able to relax with my host mom and sister for two hours, eating pasta and watching TV, before quick writing up some fieldnotes. Overall, not a bad day at all.
However, when I logged on to check my email just now, I discovered from my dad, who I love dearly, that things aren’t going quite as well in my family as I had thought (and as he had thought). Nothing unusual, new, or life-changing, but simply a reminder that progress isn’t always made as fast as you want it to be made, and that sometimes it feels like all the work you do for something may have just been for nothing. Anywho, when I read this email, my gut reaction was to cry, like I did every time last fall when I received a depressing email about my family.
But if there’s one thing my time here (and just growing up in general) has taught me, it’s that life is not just about how you act, but also how you react. Take teaching for example. Over the past four months, I’ve learned from being in the classroom with my wonderful host teacher and watching her teach that one of the main keys to being a good teacher, especially among little ones, is to not let your visceral reactions to situations take over, to not immediately become frustrated when all twenty of your students won’t listen to directions, to not call out a student for not immediately cleaning up a mess they made, you name it. Teaching is all about learning how to remain calm and collected, even when it feels like chaos is happening around you (or, at the very least, that your kids are acting just like what they are: kids). Obviously there is a time and place for frustration in teaching (especially when students don’t listen after the fifth time you’ve given a directive), but most of the time, this frustrated tone of voice is not the one you should use, even if it’s what you feel like using. Choosing to act calmly in a chaotic situation, even when you feel the opposite of calm, is such a hard skill to learn, but necessary in getting kids to act calmly as well. No student will act calm if you aren’t calm as well. They’ll just act crazy or scared.
Reactions matter in so many other situations as well. Today, when it started pouring rain in the afternoon (the second true day of the rainy season), it was hard for me not to become depressed and think I wouldn’t be able to run for the second day in a row, and possibly not for the rest of my time here. But I told myself to shut up, stop worrying, and enjoy cooking with my friends and to wait it out. There might by a window later in the afternoon with less rain during which I could run, and, if not, I could just enjoy more time with my family. It turns out that that window did come, just an hour before sunset, and I ended up going for one of my best runs here. I could have spent my afternoon worrying about losing my fitness and not being able to train properly for my half marathon in July, but I told myself not to think this way, as hard as it was, and everything ended up more or less okay.
Deciding not to think a certain way is probably one of my favorite things about becoming an adult. When you’re a kid (and especially when you’re an adolescent), you just feel things so intensely and quickly that you don’t really have time to think about how you’re reacting or if you could react in a better way. Luckily, as an adult, there is more of a conscious choice and awareness regarding the whole matter.
So about that key to happiness and contentment I’ve been looking for? I have no clue where it is. A lot of people say it’s Jesus, but he tells us to give up our lives and follow him, so I don’t know if that’s so much happiness as it is an uncomfortable, but good amount of sacrifice. All I know is that, to some degree, I have control over how stressed or depressed I feel about the negative things in my life. My family will probably always have issues, but you know what? I have so many positive and beautiful things in my life, and will continue to this summer and next fall back at Swat, that I am going to focus on those, and not let the negative actions and reactions of life take over again.
I think the Costa Rican life is getting to me… Pura Vida.
You guys, in one month I’ll be back in the States. And boy is it making me sad. You see the thing is that I miss home (and, by home, I mean both Minnesota and the East Coast) like crazy right now. I miss running by the lakes and along the Mississipi River. I miss the change of seasons, and the smell of melted snow. I miss long o’s and friendly hellos. I miss state pride and shared culture.
I miss sitting in Suburban Station or running up the steps from it, only to find myself right next to City Hall and Love Park. I miss the weird smell of the sewers coming from underneath the streets. The people walking and cars honking. I miss searching through my backpack for a SEPTA token or a dollar to buy something from Insomnia Cookie or a bakery in Chinatown. I miss the chilliness of BSM’s sanctuary and the early morning light in the city as I leave SREHUP.
I miss all of the perfectly inscribed labels, next to every flower, tree, and shrub. I miss the odd angles of the roads and brokeness of the sidewalks. I miss the peacefulness of the rocks looking down on the Crum, the steady sound of fellow students working and complaining about work in McCabe, the cozy messiness of the WRC, the back and forth surveying of the different bars in Sharples, and peaceful late night walks back to my room.
I miss walking into the library and seeing students waiting, with their homework already out, backpacks slung on the floor. I miss seeing the librarians go back and forth making copies for patrons, parents talking to the children’s librarian, with their hands on a stroller. I miss running to catch one of the buses or thanking a fellow co-op member for an unexpected ride. I miss church basements and fellowship meeting halls. I miss the familiarity of the transportation center and its people. I miss all of the friendly hellos.
But I know, even now while I’m still here, that this feeling of missing is not going to go away once I return to one of these homes because, as soon as I leave here, I know I’m going to miss the sound of Snoopy barking at night, the laughter of my host family as they chat and watch TV, the smell of coffee, the taste of platanos con natilla, the expectant silence among Quakers, the feel of dirt roads, the dense life of the cloud forest, and the beauty of a sudden rainbow. I know I’m going to miss seeing dogs wandering around on the street, my kids waving hi to me from trees, and cows and horses tied up by the side of the road. And, Lord knows, I’m going to miss the early morning light in the first grade classroom, the hushed whispers between students as they write, the waving of raised hands and calling out after a question is asked, the sound of the microwave beeping during lunch, the view when hanging upside from the monkey bars, and the feeling of a student finally “getting” it. I am going to miss this place a million times over in the months to come after this one. I know that already.
But still my feet are itchy, and it’s not just due to the mosquitos that, without fail, find themselves in my room every night. I love newness, whether it’s in fresh views or fresh perspectives. I love the feeling of discovering something others have known for ages, and the moment when something unfamiliar becomes just a little more familiar. I love the moments of clarity that come with foreign situations, when you realize you really don’t know anything at all, but, luckily, you’re always capable of learning so much more.
Needless to say, I know where I’ll be this summer (back home in Minnesota), and next year (student teaching in Philadelphia and living at Swarthmore), but after that, I haven’t a clue. And, for the first time in my life, I like that. Missing things is good.