How to Conquer Discouragement

I was feeling really discouraged yesterday.  Reconciling myself to situations that are so far outside my control, realizing that I have no answers to questions I’m not certain how to pose is difficult.

I’m a teacher, damn it.  I’m supposed to know everything.

I’m a Christian, God bless it.  I’m supposed to be able to find the answers to everything.

I’m a fool, though.  A clumsy, chubby, silly fool who has a tendency to throw around words that have meanings and really lovely sounds.  I have no answers.

But I can find my peace.

I woke up this morning feeling the edge of that sadness, a lurking monster on the periphery of my senses.  I could feel it in the shadows, hiding just beyond what I couldn’t see.  I wanted to chase it away, much like shoving a broom into the farthest reaches of the oldest closet and whisking out the dust and clumps of hair and long forgotten memories.

I did my best to tremble my metaphorical broom at those corners, but the tenacious cobwebs clung to their corners and the disturbed dust only made me sneeze and huddle away from the tiny  bits of sadness that I didn’t want to feel.

I went grocery shopping.  I drove home listening to This American Life and I listened to a producer interview a retired Navy officer who attended the funeral of a Navy SEAL who took his own life.  The SEAL’s seven year-old daughter had to leave because she shattered emotionally. She felt horrible that the funeral attendees knew her father had killed himself and was terrified that they thought she was somehow responsible.

I sat in my car, in my driveway, my favorite lime popsicles melting in the trunk and wept.  I watched as birds flew in and out of my neighbor’s gutters (that are covered in special gutter-shields); each time they exited the gutters, they carried bits of rotted grass.  Their nests must have been destroyed in the recent storms, and I noticed the smattering of leaf, sticks, and assorted debris on my neighbor’s porch-roof from where the nest had been flooded out of the top roof’s gutters.

The birds seemed to have no regrets.  Their home, their attempt at procreation was gone.  They methodically flew into the gutter’s corner; a moment later, they flew out, carrying brown, decaying matter.  They returned, repeated the process.

On the radio, the retired Naval officer choked on his tears, coughed, cleared his throat.  In my car, I cried.  I shed out the grief over another massacre in what should be safe, sacred ground.

The conversation shifted, and I felt the sudden drain and release following the catharsis.  I turned off the car; the voices dying with the engine.  I brought in the groceries, and my daughter put the popsicles into the freezer where they have hopefully been resurrected.

I ate a salad. Read some manga (Japanese graphic novel) so I can have something to talk about with my daughter.  I ate ice cream that totally negates any sense of health-related-self-righteousness that I might have gained from dutifully eating only a salad.

I found my copy of Gilead, pulled on my running shoes, got on my treadmill, and started its engine.  I clomped my way through 0.6 miles.  I started walking, alternating between 0.2 miles of walking and 0.2 miles of running.

I read Gilead in spite of my eyes bobbling up and down and the fact that I should be wearing reading glasses.  But I fell into the words.

Gilead is, in my opinion, a love letter from a dying father to his seven year-old son.  The father is telling his son his (the father’s) history.  He is telling his son about the people they know, confessing to mistakes he and others have made.  The books alternates between philosophy and religious studies and humor and the the joy of being alive.

The book shows a man approaching his imminent death, fretting that he squandered his money and will leave his wife and son penniless.

My old dog is approaching death.  More and more often, I doubt he will make it to the far end of summer.  Two weeks ago, he stopped eating.  And then he started eating again.  Right now, Loki is asleep on the kitchen floor.  The world is good for him.

I am reading Gilead because it is my former department chair’s favorite novel and she is retiring at the end of the year.  I am reading this book because, in the last year, I have been squandering way too much time on stupid computer games.  I am reading this book because I want to.

Thank God I am.  Because following this morning weeping while watching birds letting go of their nests, I needed something else.  Another moment to realign my axis and my fulcrum so that I could find my peace with the world.  And so I broke the spine of this perfect book, propped it within the shallow book groove, turned on the machine and clomped and walked.  I poured water down my throat and felt the drought within me loosen.

The world shifted.  The main character struggled with forgiveness.  He struggled with accepting his death while not fighting the inevitability.  He relished the feeling of his son’s hand within his own.  He loved his wife for her perfections, her flaws, her companionability to himself.

The year moves staunchly on.  I am woefully unprepared for any hiking season, having put back on all the weight I have lost.

I feel regret for this.  I regret mistakes I have made.

And then, I watch birds reconstruct their nests.  They pull the detritus of their lives from the gutter and stoically move forward.  The world has not collapsed for them.  They were dealt a blow.  They move forward.

A man dies slowly.  He walks to church and seeks redemption with his namesake.

I sit in my house, feeling the sunshine pour into the windows after three days of solid rain that has destroyed some of the roads around my house.

I yielded to the sorrow.  I slightly collapsed against the weight of discouragement.  And then I went to church.  I prayed.  I slept.  I felt the grief again.  And I went to the world and found solace.  Quiet consolation.  A moment to weep before shouldering on.

This is when I know I will not be defeated.

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