Author: live_a_life_less_ordinary

Exit 221. The best I can with the life I’ve been given.

Recently, one of my friends shared on Facebook that her daughter was pregnant, and that she was going to be a grandmother for the first time. This announcement was significant to me because of how I know this grandmother-to-be: she was in my high school graduating class.

I’ve known for years that this moment would be coming soon, and I’ve been dreading it. Having children was never on my radar, I’ve always felt like I was missing out on something special because of that, and now I’m old enough to be theoretically having grandchildren. It’s quite likely that she isn’t even the first grandparent in our graduating class. Quite a few of my classmates already have adult children (we’re in our early 40s currently), and at least three-fourths of my classmates I have heard nothing from since we graduated. I know of people my age and younger who have older spouses and step-grandchildren, and I know of someone in the class a year older than us who was a grandmother at age 39. But it hits home a little more when it’s someone whom I’m actually in social media contact with.

I’ve been dreading this because it is just a reminder of the fact that having children has never been something to consider for me, which in turn is a reminder of my failure to form or have a romantic relationship. I am constantly surrounded by reminders of this, and it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I can just keep doing the best I can with the life I’ve been given. And I have plenty of reminders of experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, that wouldn’t be possible had I had children. This isn’t what I naturally think about first when this happens, but I need to learn to change my thinking.

And besides, most of the greatest human beings who ever lived weren’t like everyone else.

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Exit 220. No memory of this kid.

Every year, on the first day of school, I give my students an assignment where they answer some questions about themselves.  It gives me a chance to do some necessary paperwork while they are writing, but it also gives me a chance to learn a little bit about who is in my class that year.

One of the questions I ask is who lives at your house.  That way, I can see if a student has a large family, or if they live with both parents, or if a relative other than Mom or Dad is raising them.  I added to that question two years ago: “If anyone in your house has had me as a teacher, circle their name.”  I looked at my class list that year and saw a few familiar last names, most likely younger siblings of students I had had before, and by that point I had been at the school long enough that I was probably going to be getting younger siblings of students I knew every year until I retired (unless I end up at a different school for whatever reason).  So I added this, just in case there were any students whose siblings I knew but I didn’t notice that they were related.

Students aren’t good at following directions, of course.  I’ve had a few students just see the words “circle their name” underlined, and they circle the names of everyone in their family.  And the reverse happens too; I had one this year name her older sister on that paper and not circle her name even though her sister was in fact in my class.  Whether this was due to not circling the name or just not knowing whether her sister had been in my class and being too lazy to ask, I don’t know.  With this student, it could have gone either way.

Sometimes I can tell right away when a student has an older sibling whom I know.  This year, there is one boy in my class who very much resembles a girl from three years earlier with the same last name, except that he’s a dude and not built like a gymnast.  On the first day of school, I told him a funny story involving his sister and a protractor, which he said he remembered hearing about back when it happened.

One girl this year circled her older brother’s name.  I just assumed it was a mistake.  The name didn’t seem familiar, and it’s a fairly distinct last name that I would have remembered.  I never asked her whether it was a mistake or not.  But about a week ago, a student sitting next to this girl mentioned that she had heard stories about me from an older friend who was in my class last year.  I just kind of chuckled.  The girl who had circled her brother’s name then said, “My brother told me he liked having you as a teacher.”

I made some noncommittal remark, something like “That’s good, I’m glad.”  But that really got me thinking.  Apparently this girl did in fact have a brother who was in my class, and I had no memory of this kid.  I thought maybe he never actually had my class.  Maybe his friends were in my class, so he knew who I was.  Maybe he was a student who liked to hang out in my room after school and do homework, because I’ve had students do that sometimes some years.  Or maybe he came to the club that I sponsor once a week after school.  But surely I would have remembered him if he had actually been in my class.

I got curious a few days ago.  I clicked on the archives of previous years of the student information system and started checking class lists, going back to the first year I was at that school.  And eventually I found him.  The girl was right, and I was wrong.  He was in my class, in 2015-16, my second year at this school.

And I had no memory of this kid.

That was a pretty memorable class, too.  Some of the students I remember the best were in the same class as him, the same period in the same year.  Like Protractor Girl.  And the student who sat a few rows behind me at a Kings game once.  And one of the handful of students who have been consistently in touch with me since they left the school.  And the daughter of a coworker who had a hilarious quote about one lesson that I’ve shared with every class since.  But I don’t remember this kid at all.

I feel bad when I realize that there are former students who I don’t remember.  A few years ago, I wrote (warning: there are a few of you with whom I’ve discussed some of my fiction writing other than what has appeared on this site, and clicking the following link may contain spoilers about the events that inspired that writing) about a particularly memorable experience about forgetting a former student.  But in that case, eleven years had passed in the time since I had had that student, and I had moved.  This time, it was not nearly as long, and I’m still at the same school, with his sister in my class right now.

I just got out the yearbook from his year to see what this kid looked like.  And he wasn’t there.  That made this whole thing look even more creepy at first… but probably not, he was probably just absent on picture day.  I found his picture in the yearbook for a different year, though.  And he still doesn’t really look familiar, except for the fact that I can see the resemblance to his sister who is in my class right now.  While I was looking through the yearbook, though, I saw so many other names and faces whom I hadn’t thought about in years.

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who goes through this.  I’m sure it’s perfectly normal, after having 140-150 students every year, that I’m not going to remember every single one.  It just makes me feel bad.

I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading those papers about my students.  Maybe I should get them back out every few months as I get to know the students.  And in the meantime, I’m glad that this student thought I was a good teacher, even though I don’t feel like one since I don’t remember him.

Exit 219. I don’t know how to let go.

I’m not well.  Not mentally and emotionally, at least.

I don’t want to talk about it.  But I realized yesterday, as everything was falling apart, that there is something deeper going on that what appeared to be happening on the surface.

I don’t know how to let go.  I don’t know how to forgive.  I don’t know how to move on.  I’ve been carrying around decades of burdens and rejection and hurt, and I just don’t know how to move on.

I think about things that I was successfully able to move on from, to try to figure out what to do about this.  And it turns out that it might not have been so successful after all.  Sometimes forgiveness happens because whoever or whatever I’m mad at apologizes or makes an effort to make things right.  But I can’t control that.  I can’t control other people.  And sometimes it looks like I’m able to forgive someone on the surface, but then their true colors show again later, and years pass and I’m still angry and carrying it around.  Or sometimes I just manage to distract and numb myself for long enough that the anger I’m carrying around doesn’t affect my ability to be a functioning adult… most of the time, until something happens like the last few days, and something that is truly insignificant in the long run triggers an avalanche of anger.

I just don’t know what to do with this.  I can stay away from certain people or places where I am likely to get upset, but that’s just a Band-Aid.  I’m scared.  I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage to myself, my friendships, or my career.  Fortunately, I see my therapist this week.  That’s a start, I guess.

Exit 218. Everything will be all right.

I’m ok.

Everything is going to be all right.

Sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart, like everything is hopeless.  But it’ll be all right.

Things might not turn out the way I would want.  Things might end up completely different.  I might have to make some major changes.  I might have major changes forced on me.  I might stay here for the rest of my life, or I might have to flee with nothing but the clothes on my back.

But everything will be all right.

And I’m fine.  I just needed to remind myself of that.

Exit 217. The story, and our place in it, doesn’t end there.

I missed a week… sorry.

As I’ve said before, I seem to have missed out on quite a few of the iconic movies of my generation.  Prominent among these movies I didn’t see as a kid were the Indiana Jones movies.  I really can’t say why either; it’s not that I had any specific dislike for the movies or anyone in them.  I have seen the original Indiana Jones trilogy a total of twice in adulthood, once in my late 20s and once in my early 30s.  It has been long enough that there are a lot of details I don’t remember.  And just yesterday, while dealing with a case of writer’s block and uncertainty about what to write on this blog, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the first time in several years and only the third time total.  And that got me thinking.

(Warning: spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t want the ending given away, stop reading now.  And if you’re wondering who would really need a spoiler warning for a 37-year-old movie that was the highest-grossing movie of its year and spawned numerous sequels and has been watched by millions, then you need to realize that not everyone grew up with the same experiences as you, and you can go butt out and mind your own business.)

A few years ago, back when the TV show The Big Bang Theory was still funny sometimes, there was an episode where Amy reveals to Sheldon that she has never seen the Indiana Jones movies.  After he shows her Raiders of the Lost Ark, he excitedly waits for her reaction, and she points out a major plot hole: Indiana Jones himself was ultimately unnecessary to the plot.  Had he not been there, the Nazis still would have found the Ark of the Covenant, and they still would have been killed by the angels of death when they opened it.  Sheldon is unable to come up with a rebuttal, because Amy is basically correct.

In a movie with a plot revolving around a Biblical artifact, it is appropriate that I found a spiritual illustration in this.  In one sense, we are just as unnecessary in the ultimate fate of the world.  Jesus will come back, Satan will be defeated, and nothing we can do will change that.

But the story, and our place in it, doesn’t end there.  Back to Indiana Jones for a minute.  Even if Indiana ultimately played no role in the fate of the Nazis who were seeking the Ark of the Covenant, his presence did affect the story in other ways.  Most notably, when the Nazis showed up at Marion’s bar trying to get the medallion that they needed to find the location of the Ark, they were clearly not above using whatever means necessary to get what they wanted.  Had Indiana not been there to fight back, Marion would probably have been killed in that encounter, but instead, she survives.

And, even though Jesus will come back and Satan will be defeated no matter what we do, we as followers of Christ have a similar role to play here on Earth.  The world is full of millions of people who do not know Jesus or the way of salvation.  Satan and the spiritual forces of darkness know that they are doomed in the end, and they are out there trying to deceive as many human beings as possible, leading them away from the one true God and the path to salvation, found in following Jesus and in nothing else.  Our role is to love others in the name of Jesus and tell them the message of salvation, so that some of them might escape spiritual death, just as Marion escaped physical death because of Indiana Jones being there.

Exit 216. Knowing that I haven’t been forgotten.

I’ve been away from this site for a few weeks. Sorry. Life just got in the way.

I’m ready to hide from the world for a long time. The world is quickly descending into madness.

Yesterday I got something completely unexpected in the mail. I have a friend on Facebook who observes National Handwriting Day. She asked for anyone who wanted her to send a handwritten card in the mail. I said sure, as I had in a previous year as well. National Handwriting Day is in January; she got behind this year, but the card still came in the mail, finally yesterday. I had completely forgotten about this until I saw who it was from. She isn’t someone I see on a regular basis anymore. Life just changes, and I haven’t seen her in person since she made the post about National Handwriting Day in January.

Even in this mad, chaotic world, little things like knowing that I haven’t been forgotten can really make my day sometimes.

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

Exit 214. Insomnia is infuriating.

Nothing seems unusual for the first hour.  For all my life, it has never been unheard of for me to take a while to fall asleep.  But if I am still awake after an hour, a feeling of dread starts to settle in.  Usually by then, a feeling of having to go to the bathroom has settled in as well, so I get up and deal with that.  I go back to bed and try to relax.

The end of the second hour is when I really start to feel doomed.  I can often tell by then that I’m just not going to be falling asleep.  Usually by then I have to go to the bathroom again, and I’m desperate to get rid of as many distractions as possible that might keep me awake all night, so I get up again and go to the bathroom.  It is at this point that I try doing something else for a bit to get my mind off of whatever is keeping me awake.  If I work the next day, I’ll make my lunch now; that’ll give me an extra few minutes in the morning just in case I do happen to fall asleep.  Sometimes I’ll read for a while.  Eventually I’ll try going back to bed.  I’ll set my alarm for about 45 minutes later than the time it usually goes off, so that I will wake up with the absolute bare minimum amount of time to get ready and dressed in the morning and not be too terribly late to work.  Every minute of potential sleep counts.

If I don’t fall asleep at this point, I start questioning why I am being punished with this inability to sleep.  Am I just subconsciously, or consciously, worrying about something?  Was it because of something I ate?  Did I just eat too much too late at night?  Did I drink too many caffeinated beverages?  Was I looking at too many screens too late at night?  I start to get angry and frustrated over the lack of consistency.  I remember other nights when I did whatever it might have been that is keeping me awake, but had no trouble falling asleep.  Why do there seem to be absolutely no rules here?  Insomnia is infuriating.

Sometimes, between the third and fourth hour, I get desperate.  I start lamenting whatever it is that is wrong with me that causes me to experience this hell.  If I have any in the medicine cabinet, I’ll take some medication for colds or allergies that causes drowsiness, even though I don’t have a cold and am not bothered by allergies.  That also gets me to the bathroom to take another bathroom break.  And this is when I start to notice the headache setting in.  A sense of dread begins to overwhelm me as I realize that I’m going to have to go to work tomorrow with this headache.   I contemplate taking a sick day, but then I realize that no one else can do my job, not being there just gets everyone behind, and preparing not to be there is often quite a bit of work in and of itself.  Most of the time, I just decide to ride it out and go to work anyway, and try to survive until lunch when I might get in a 20-minute nap with my head down on the desk.

Eventually, after a few more hours of helplessly tossing and turning, I realize that my alarm would have gone off by now had I not changed it earlier in the night.  I give up and get dressed and go about my day, simply hoping to survive until I get home, and hoping that it will be a long time before I experience this misery again.  Unfortunately, the nights of insomnia have become more frequent lately.  Every time, when I finally get to sleep after being awake for 30-40 hours in a row, I hope that these days are behind me.  We’ll see.

Exit 213. All of this has taken a heavy toll.

August is almost over.  It has been good so far.  The new school year is mostly starting well, although I have one class with all of the behavior problems together in the same room.  And I have had a lot of fun times with friends and family.

But all of this has taken a heavy toll on me.

I am exhausted all the time.  I have been having trouble sleeping again.  And at times, I have been short-tempered and irritable over insignificant things.

I need to get back into some healthy habits that have gone by the wayside during the last extremely busy few weeks.  Getting more exercise.  Eating less junk food.  Time in prayer and Scripture.  Stuff like that.

Hopefully September will feel a little more normal.

Exit 212. The best part of a birthday.

I recently celebrated a birthday.  And I think I’ve figured out what it is that I love about birthdays.

It isn’t the excitement of getting older.  That stopped being exciting in my 20s, especially when I was going through that phase where I was invited to a wedding about once a month, and it felt like everyone else’s lives were moving on and I wasn’t.

It isn’t the excitement of getting to treat myself.  I’m an adult.  I do what I want.  I treat myself plenty of other times.  And I suspect that people who like treating themselves on their birthdays probably do too.

For me, the best part of a birthday is feeling loved.  And this birthday was one of the best yet by that measure.

This is the first year that I have had a fair number of coworkers on my Facebook friends.  For years, I always kept Facebook and my job separate as much as possible, just because I didn’t ever want to say anything on Facebook that would get me in trouble at work.  A couple years ago, I did start following and occasionally replying on a Facebook group set up by the local chapter of the teachers’ union where I work, and a few coworkers started to find me there.  I allowed it, and I added a few more of my own, the ones I tend to talk to about more than just work stuff, because compared to most people I know, I don’t really share a whole lot of controversial stuff and I’m being paranoid about nothing.

So when I got to work on the morning of my birthday, several of my coworkers knew that it was my birthday.  We had a staff meeting in the afternoon, and they sang to me and gave me cake.  (The principal’s secretary got it all on Facebook Live, and a former coworker who retired commented on it and said hi, so I’m now back in touch with a former coworker whom I hadn’t seen in over a year.)  Two of my classes also sang to me, although I wrote up on the board next to the date that it was my birthday.

This weekend, I invited people over to help me celebrate.  I always tell them that gifts are not required, but a few of them bring gifts anyway, and the ones who do are usually so thoughtful about it.  I have one friend who makes artwork of pixelated retro video game characters out of plastic beads; my game room with all my old video games is decorated with quite a few of his creations, of which he always brings a few new ones every year as birthday presents.  My friend who made the cake made it in the shape of a basketball jersey in Sacramento Kings colors, with my last name and the number 42, both because I turned 42 and because of the number’s use in the works of Douglas Adams.  (There was a little more to the story of the cake, but I don’t need to get into that here.)  Someone else made me a t-shirt of a Jeopardy game board, with categories that would be perfect for me, like Mathematical Equations, Sacramento Kings, and “Firefly” Quotes.

I think what makes this all the more special for me is that I remember a time when I really didn’t have friends.  I know what it’s like to be on the absolute bottom rung of the social ladder, and because of that I will never take for granted the people in my life now.

Thank you all.