On Friday I came home from work and dug around in old shoeboxes, looking for pictures of myself in high school because I’m teaching high school again, and nothing makes you want to confront your hormonal, opinionated, teenage self like being in a room with 172 hormonal, opinionated teenagers for seven and a half hours a day. And if you find yourself engaging in this activity and you’re like me, you’ll probably spend an evening laughing and cringing in equal measure. #BLUEEYESHADOW, anyone?
It’s jarring to see a picture of yourself that’s at least fifteen years old, and yet to simultaneously remember that life seemed foreverlong when the photo was taken. I vividly remember feeling like the four years I spent in high school were four of the longest of my life. It wasn’t one of those “I blinked and I was sitting at my graduation” experiences for me. While I had wonderful friends and lots to do and was generally happy, I was very aware (or perhaps really, really hopeful) that I wasn’t “peaking.” And I mean, who wants to peak, ever? I carried, even then, a distinct knowledge that these were not the best years of my life. (Please, please, don’t let these be the best years of my life.) I also remember thinking that things were A VERY BIG DEAL that turned out not to be A VERY BIG DEAL almost on a daily basis.
(Here’s a point of reference re: my feelings on being in high school. Koby and I often talk about what age we’d like to be if we could be any age. His is always “seventeen” -which always HURTS MY FEELINGS KOBY- and mine has been my own current age, since we started playing this game seven years ago. A few years back, I had a dream that I was fifteen again AND IT WAS AN ACTUAL NIGHTMARE. I woke up furious because I couldn’t drive and I had to ask teachers to use the restroom. So no, I wouldn’t relive high school even if you paid me untold amounts of money.)
And so I sat two days ago as a thirty year old, looking down at the photographs of my teenaged self, and wondered what I would say to a student who currently feels as if high school is something to be endured. (Because I. FEEL. YA.) I composed something in my head; it was a montage of clichés like “It gets better,” and “This too shall pass,” and lots and lots of reflections on the importance of attitude and perception.
But then I thought a little bit more. When we look over old pictures, run into old friends, or otherwise come in contact with bits of our past and cringe it means we’ve grown, and therefore we shouldn’t be ashamed of whatever is behind us. I definitely cringed going through the shoeboxes of snapshots, but then I wondered at how much I HAVEN’T changed. I’d like to give my high school self a little bit of credit; I’d like to reach through the picture, hug her neck, and cheer her on. When is the last time you endured something for four years? Four years is a long time! And high school is rough.
I remember being in a panic while Knox went through a biting stage when he was two years old. I was convinced it was never going to stop. That phase probably lasted two months or less. Potty training definitely didn’t last four years, but I felt certain that every failure permanently altered our lives. A few (many) times since becoming a parent, I’ve called my mom in “I’M SURELY MESSING THESE KIDS UP” moments. She listens, occasionally gives direct advice, doesn’t minimize my problem, always tells me I’m doing a good job, and then when I won’t shut up about it, reminds me that, “This too shall pass.” It’s sometimes the best thing someone can do for me in those moments.
And so I began composing my encouragement to the adult enduring moments of trivial frustration that feel like the absolute end of the world and don’t feel trivial at all, thanks. It was a montage of clichés like “It gets better,” and “This too shall pass,” and lots and lots of reflections on the importance of attitude and perception.
But then I thought a little bit more. What about those moments when we’re keenly aware that we might be living one of our best days? Suddenly, “This too shall pass” takes on a darker, more poignant meaning. It’s why mothers cry over their kids’ tiny socks when nothing is wrong and why the guys who actually really loved high school try valiantly to impress upon teenage athletes to cherish every game. Two weeks ago, Knox started kindergarten, and Koby and I are still bringing ourselves nearly to tears when we talk about it privately. “This too shall pass.” SHEESH. And to those living what must surely be their darkest, their own periods of monotonous endurance? How can I say, “It gets better”? To both these friends I can only offer the same trite phrases, and I hope that deep down they do believe that wonderful things lie up ahead despite what’s been or will be left behind.
My internal letter of encouragement for a select few became relevant to everyone I’ve ever known. It’s been a montage of clichés like “It gets better,” and “This too shall pass,” and I managed to leave out most of my reflections on the importance of attitude and perception.
Knowing that no earthly situation can be sustained eternally has been a point of comfort for me, even while it means that the beautiful things (like our kids being young) don’t last forever either.
Whatever you’re going through, it can’t be forever here. For better or for worse. Revisiting this gives me clarity; it gives me encouragement when times are challenging, mindfulness when times are precious, and grace that allows me to feel my feelings and keep moving, dang it.