Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Learning the Same Lesson Over and Over
Before brain surgery, I filled the nooks and crannies of my days with too many post-it note reminders. I rushed from car to classroom and ran to the restroom in any spare moment. I arose at four a.m. to be at the gym by five to swim and lift weights and rush through my sun salutation before my workday began.
My physical spaces were as cluttered as my time. I was surrounded by stacks of ungraded papers, revised and re-revised lesson plans, and unpaid bills. A couple of times at school, I tripped and fell with stacks of papers in my arms as I was racing across campus to a Xerox machine. Because our “hallways” were outdoors, the papers fluttered in the rain until I jumped up, grabbed them and ran on.
Since brain surgery, I’ve slowed down. I must. If I try to dash around like I did before, my head will hurt, and I will fall. This new way of living has been a gift. Though I'm dealing with significant physical and mental challenges, I've been more centered and spacious than I was before. This spaciousness in world and time has been a gift.
However, in this sixth year after my second brain tumor and radiation, I have forgotten this gift from my brain tumors. I have again been overcommitting to too many projects and fighting through the resultant fatigue. There’s just so much I want to do, so much I take joy in.
During this two week break from classes, I wanted to get so much done. I know that I struggle with fatigue, and I thought that if I got a head start on my next quarter I would maintain an equilibrium. I thought I would clean off my desk and the study floor, draft an essay due in May for my writing class, go to the gym three times a week and to church on Sundays, write two blog entries, read a book and some articles for my poetry work with people with memory loss, spend relaxing time with Ann and friends (time that I put off during winter quarter), work on the goal to include disability justice as a core part of the UW SSW curriculum, make plans for the upcoming Methodist General Conference (an international conference held in Portland this spring), work on a paper for a disability conference…and the list goes on.
I have done very little of that, and my precious two weeks are coming to a close. As the pile of paper cluttering my desk grows the size of an Amazonian anthill, I just want to lie in front of the fire, watch the women’s NCAA basketball tournament, and hold Ann’s hand.
It’s time for me to learn again my brain tumor lesson, which Thomas Merton articulated:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence.
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence.
The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
Like Annie Dillard in An American Childhood, I am learning the same lesson over and over.
Instead of working on my pile this morning, I’m writing this blog entry to figure my way forward. (Though I have written this blog for others since radiation, the writing has first been for me as I figure out how to live a meaningful life after brain tumors. The answer is not: do as much stuff as possible.)
It’s time to simplify, to unclutter my desk, my calendar, and my mind. How do I do that? This quarter: fulfill obligations I’ve already taken on and do not commit to new ones: that time will come, but it’s not now.
Now is the time to chillax (a term my hip niece Gretchen taught me.)
I’ll let you know how it goes.