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.