It is Friday night, and I am stealing a few moments at the computer to write these words. I have spent all day doing the things I can only do on my day off from work; a laundry list of odds and ends that keep life going and keep the house moderately clean. Between cleaning up the remains of dinner and putting fresh sheets on the bed, I have chosen myself, for a few moments at least.
Many nights last semester I stayed up, red pen in hand, churning through the bottomless stack of papers to grade. It felt like the second I triumphantly finished the last essay, another stack would appear to take its place, like the school-fairies delivered them personally for my torment. The hours of prep work, only to lecture to a half-asleep post-lunch class, wore on my soul, rubbing uncomfortably like a carpet burn. The writing? Forget it. I wedged it in during tutoring downtime, on my lunch break while I downed another coffee. It felt like everything I wrote was crap.
I felt myself fading away.
“Go to bed, honey. I’m right behind you,” I’d tell Mike. I’d blink, then notice another hour disappear, eyes burning from remaining open for so long. I’d squeeze in valuable life moments, half asleep for most of them. Baby showers. Halloween parties. Holidays. I mainlined caffeine to be present for the people in my life, but my mind often wandered to the next box to check on the lengthy to-do list.
– – –
Compassion for others comes naturally to me, like language and embroidering the truth with my famous hyperboles. My empathy levels are inconveniently off the chart; whatever others feel, I absorb those feelings myself. In the past I have had to keep people at a distance, to protect myself from entering into sorrows that do not belong to me. I still work on this daily, to maintain autonomy while still staying connected to people.
However, despite this ease with which I join you in your pain, your anger, your joy, there is one person I am always hard on. She deserves it–she is often stupid and just an all-around failure. At least, that is the internal dialogue I carry on when I am talking to myself.
When I work seventy hours a week, it’s because I was too worthless (read: sick) to go to a valuable school, so I could get a well-paying job in a lucrative field. It’s also because I am too stupid to enjoy math or science enough to select a career in said lucrative field. I deserve to suffer, because I am an alcoholic who is socially awkward and can’t do anything right. I am not charming, I am not doing big things in my life, and most people forget me pretty easily.
See? I can be a pretty mean person.
But I have nice things about me, too. Like how I feel when you tell me about your suffering, as if it were raining inside my soul. Like the way I dive into whatever I’m learning about and search with all my might. Like my ability to make a really, really good cup of coffee.
I am also tired. I was sick for an entire month after the semester ended–something had to change.
– – –
Lately, I don’t beat myself up over the essays and blog posts I don’t write. I don’t think about the novel I keep neglecting on my computer. I don’t think about all of the things I should be doing with my life, should have accomplished by this age. I arranged my assignments to stream in a little more manageably, and I implemented other tricks to make teaching if not easier, at least less stressful. At the end of each day, I find satisfaction in practicing my French and Italian, savoring my facility with certain phrases and plugging away at the slippery ones that I just can’t grasp. I read; I dive into books without shame, without telling myself I need to be doing something to earn my keep, to earn my self worth.
If you aren’t seeing me as much online, it is because I am hiking with Mike, or walking on the beach, or cooking a delicious meal. I spend time with friends and I take time to transplant my newborn succulents.
I am practicing compassion towards the person who needs it most.
This was written for 1,000 Voices for Compassion. On February 20, 2015, writers around the Internet are called to share a message of compassion–1,000 are spreading their own messages, marking it #1000Speak.