It’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to make sense of anything. Do you ever go through an impetus dry spell? Can that be a thing? I think it can, because I’m there. Well, yesterday I was there. It seemed as if recently, I’ve been incapable of rationalizing, or articulating logical emotions; just manic, loosely gathered dispositions, and the overcompensating casuistry that came with it all. Almost like all of my feelings got together for a game of poker somewhere in the depths of my soul, and arbitrarily made irresponsible bets against each other, somehow expecting me to roll with it all. Dramatic, I know. I can’t offer you specific examples because there was absolutely no continuity to this all-consuming phase. It was un-triggered, spontaneous emotional combustion. Call it age, call it life, it felt suffocating; and I was driving everyone around me senselessly, stupid exhausted – including myself.
This morning, in front of about 15 kindergarteners, I had an unexpected, but very much welcomed epiphany.
I have a set of stairs in my studio that must have come from a past production and somehow found a home in the theatre arts room, welcoming me on my very first day of teaching. It’s really one of the only places for my students to sit, and I’ve made it routine that they go directly to them upon entering my room. This is where we check in and begin our time together before we “enter the space.” They’re pretty impressive stairs when you stop to appreciate the workmanship that must have gone into them. There are five levels to the top, and since I’ve started teaching, there’ve been hundreds of classes commenced on their tough platforms.
The only problem that my trademark stairs have presented me? Everyone wants to sit on the top row. First graders. Eighth graders. Everyone. I can’t blame them for this – we’re born believing we need to make our way to the top row. Plus, they’re stairs. I mean, who gets to sit on a randomly placed set of stairs in the middle of their school day? I’d want the top row, too. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t metaphorically climbed over anyone in the way, ignoring the pain it may cause, to make my way there. It’s a selfish act, but entirely human. We instinctively want to make our way to the highest believed pedestal, often at the expense of others.
Not today. Today, I decided there would be no top row. Nobody gets the fifth platform. We walk to the stairs, and we find a spot on any row but the top one. Little did I know, my wily kindergarteners would sit on the fourth row and declare it “the new top.” Brilliant. Again, I can’t fault them for this. I actually found it to be an impressive alternative. But of course, there were those who had not found their way to “the new top.” Instead, they were in the original first or second platform; disheartened and crushed.
This evoked a quick, unplanned reaction from me. I started to defend that the more we focus on ourselves, the less we worry about what rows our friends are sitting on. At least they’re here with us. And who cares where they sit? They’re your friends, aren’t they? Shouldn’t we be happy for them regardless of seat placement? I thought about how trivial it seemed to worry about hierarchy in this scenario – when we’re about to use our imaginations and exercise expression. Why let anxiety fill our minds when we have the ability, the choice, to instead, be present? At this moment I swear the universe benevolently promenaded into my studio and whispered, “Silly girl. You worry about the top row, too.”
The perpetual, “Are we still friends?” “Do they like me?” “Do they get me?” “What do they think of me?” “Is she mad at me?” “Did I totally ruin that conversation?” “Should I not have said that?” “Did that make me sound like a moron?” “Was that insensitive” or “Was that overbearing?” … I mean, I have a headache just in typing that. It’s counterintuitive thinking. It does nothing but catalyze the momentum of a fast-moving crazy train. And mine has been moving at such a speed, it’s off track. It needs to change; it needs a new course. And the answer was staring back at me through 15 pairs of eyes.
I quickly understood the singular denominating factor of my feverishly calamitous self in the recent past. The driving force behind my manic behavior, my unexplainable self-doubt: Worry. Anxiety. Angst. That’s three things, but technically they all derive from the same concept and I can’t help it: I like words. I was equally as guilty as the 15 six year olds who now wondered why I suddenly seemed lighter. I got it. I have become so incredibly preoccupied about where I sit in relationship to everyone around me, instead of where I sit in relationship to myself. I’ve become obsessed with agonizing over the people around me, instead of past me, who would genuinely just enjoy the people around me.
I’m not saying I’ve suddenly figured everything out. “Everything” being life and it’s many complexities. I don’t think it will ever be that simple. But I am saying that sometimes our higher power, whoever that may be, speaks to us in the most unexpected of ways. Never did I think I’d be having this moment at 9:00 on a Tuesday morning in the midst of starting a lesson, though I’m thankful I did. Because somehow, I reminded myself of a simple truth – love everyone. Love them however you want. Support them. But also allow yourself to respect where they’re sitting, wherever it is they want or need to sit for themselves. Accept and recognize that we can only control our place. We cannot puppeteer the world around us, we can only adapt to it. There lies the agony, the inappropriate guilt. The totally unwarranted overthinking.
Stop worrying about where you are on the steps. Trust that you are exactly where you need to be and that the universe will whisper in your ear when you need her to the most. Allow yourself the gift of being present and see the world around you instead of getting too caught up in the mechanics of the rollercoaster to enjoy the ride. Walk up the stairs. Enjoy their charm. Appreciate the climb instead of rushing to the top.
I hope you stop and notice the workmanship today, whatever that might mean for you.