Falling in love is certainly not without conflict (as we know, any good plot needs a conflict to drive it forward, and so does falling in love if it’s to ever be a story worth telling). For example, what happens if you get “there” first, wherever there is? You might have met your match, and the reality of that possibility can stifle enthusiasm. Is there an undercurrent of future worry beneath the present contentment?
My students are full of authentic love stories, both comedies and tragedies. The drama unfolds predictably within the confines of the school building’s walls. Conflicts are internal and external. The students are their own protagonists, and they struggle against unfair grading procedures, backstabbing friends, and the requited or unrequited romantic flavor of the semester.
I’ve seen sixteen-year-old girls moved to tears by all of the aforementioned scenarios (often, rightly so). A few have so captured me within their heartbreaking narratives that I give in to my own sympathetic tears, and perhaps all too frequently empathetic ones. I’ve found that by allowing myself to be vulnerable with these teen girls, by admitting to my own stumbles and failures, by offering a tear where one is warranted, that they trust me more.
One of my yearbook and blogging club girls is discovering through writing her blog that she appears almost depressed. She is typically a positive, a breath of fresh air, contributing a blonde moment every week or so to keep the rest of the club on our toes. She’s Beauty before she met the beast, head in the clouds, knowledge in her hands, ever aware there’s something more beyond her reach.
Young Beauty gave me two belated Christmas presents last week. The first was a tiny, personalized book of fifty reasons why I was her favorite teacher. One line said, “I like it when you… get excited teaching something you’re passionate about.” Like being vulnerable, volunteering my passion to my students, allowing them to access what’s near to my heart, endears them to me.
At blogging club, Young Beauty said that she must have missed me over break, because she went back and started reading my blog from the beginning, some forty-five entries ago. That was the second present. It had never occurred to me that a student would be thinking of me outside of school hours, much less reading my carefully penned words while on vacation. In nearly the same breath, she made known her epiphany about the sad undertones of her blogging freewrites.
My gym mentor Chuck asked me how much time I spend in the past, present, and future. Young Beauty, like me, spends most of the time in the present, with a little attention given to future pursuits. But her act of reflective writing, like mine, emphasizes the past and the future quite naturally. The undercurrents are more forceful when time is still under the click of the keys. In the stillness, in the free flow of thought onto the page, we look honestly at ourselves, and the mirror doesn’t lie.
It’s not that Young Beauty is depressed. She is quite content in the present, as I am. But when we put pen to paper, we face the inner worries and concerns about the past and the future. When we write, we hack into the cosmic pause button; no present exists. We consider exactly where we have been, and we wonder ineffectively about the uncertainty of where we will go.
Young Beauty is happy, as am I. The conflict is, really, an undercurrent, and when the present is still as it is now, paused for a couple of hours, that undercurrent is simply more powerful. More than anything, the conflict is an internal one. She and I both battle ourselves, ever our biggest critics. If it is an external one, then it is not against a man but rather the past and the future.
We can do nothing about the past, but we hope beyond hope we can do something about the future. Thus, we can resolve ourselves not to worry about the past, but worry resides, nevertheless, beneath the waves, waiting for the high tide that will inevitably come. It’s always high tide when I write.
Chuck also asked me if my time spent in past, present, and future had changed since I met Charming, and it has; why invest in backward thoughts when you have living to do? It seemed counterproductive to make a list of things I wanted to accomplish in my thirties and then commit mental resources to dwelling on unchangeable past events. What would I gain by spending a week in paradise with Charming thinking about old relationships?
In an effort to illustrate the power of an analogy to my sophomores, I likened a budding romance to planting a garden, lengthening the metaphor to include details like the roots extending and intertwining as the two discover one another and the shoots of green that indicate something beautiful is growing. The analogy works better on them than it does on me.
Because I saw different flowering plants fail in my first garden this summer. First it was the hanging baskets, then the petunias. Each new plant became an experiment. I learned not to get too excited about those initial shoots of green, because once the flowers meet the environment above soil, they may find conditions insufficient to meet their needs and thrive.
Charming and I have been writing our drama for four months now. I’m starting to feel some intermingling of roots, and there are definite signs of life breaking through the soil. Life has taught me not to get too excited, because I can’t know for sure if this garden is going to thrive or die. When I write, I face streams of consciousness that I can ignore in the present.
At the end of a spontaneous exploring adventure in the Bahamas, Charming handed me a purple blossom (which struck me as only nearly as brilliant as his smile during the gesture). I tucked the flower in my hair, and my present happiness, however intangible, became visible and audible. I had living to do. There was no room for worry.
Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I can hope beyond hope that I can do something about the future, but God secures that future. I don’t want to miss the joy of a flower in my hair as I smile back at my own budding romance.
And if I’m worried about the future because I got “there” before Charming did, I might miss more than this moment. Young Beauty and I reflect on the undercurrents when we write. Mine led me here. God fell in love with me first, and He waits patiently for me to catch up (though I never will). Even with the world on pause in my writing perch, God breaks through to quiet my anxiety.
I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable with my students and teach them with passion. They trust me, and I’m endeared to them. I might hope beyond hope that sharing the same vulnerability and passion with Charming would foster similar growth in our analogy-example garden.
There really isn’t room for worry if you have living to do. Consider the future. Learn from the past. And save the considering and learning for a time of reflection that will bring you clarity, like for me and Young Beauty.