Hung over (see http://wp.me/p6L8u0-eG ) was the theme of my end-of-year-school year experience last year. As I reflected on my feelings at the end of the most recent academic year, I wondered if I learned any lessons from the former experience. I remembered that as a child I told Daddy something like, “It hurts when I do this” or the other thing. I remember him flashing a playful grin before he said, “Well, don’t do that.” It seemed so simple to say don’t do the thing that hurts or causes discomfort, but it’s not always that easy. It has always been much easier for me to avoid the things that make me say, “Ouch!” or “Dang, I didn’t even see that” or “That’s gonna leave a mark.” The kind of physical injury that has manifested itself through vocalized pain responses generally triggered some avoidance techniques that helped me minimize my contact with those things that caused me pain.
My current hang over symptoms have taken me to a new height (as compared to the last school year). This year has taught me that I had less difficulty taking safety precautions with inanimate things than those with a heartbeat. The pains that I’ve felt this year didn’t begin with hitting my elbow on just the right spot or kicking my toe on the corner of the couch. My pain memory saved me from repeated encounters with those things that somehow got in my way previously. Memories of physical pain came complete with what presented like the equivalence of a time, date, location, and intensity stamp. On the other hand, the pains from encounters with the living left me with an array of indelible marks and pain, but often I had no specified time of onset. It reminded me of that question on the doctor’s intake form: When did the pain start? It’s was like living with a severe head cold and not being able to remember what it felt like to breath freely. In that congested, stuffy moment in my life, there seemed to be only stuffiness, pain, pressure, and distraction.
A few weeks ago I became aware of some muscle aches and tightness in my neck and shoulders. I knew that the body aches and occasional headaches were symptoms of hard labor. I thought about this recurring end-of-year phenomenon and I realized that it might not be so phenomenal after all. I had not participated in a lot of physical exercise, so my labor had to be related to the emotional lifting and carrying I had done in order do what I do every day.
While avoidance of the inanimate things that caused me pain came easier for me than my separation from or avoidance of human challenges. My reflections revealed that I must be more tolerant of other people’s stuff, shortcomings, and drama than I believed. I must also be more forgiving of others than I ever imagined and possible so passionate about uplifting communities that I chose to spend my time and energy on other things even if it meant neglecting myself. The work of educating, empowering, and enlightening people and communities has always been hard, intense, emotional labor. It was made especially tough for me because the work involved imperfect people trying to figure out life. I submit to you that life can be hard labor because it is just that – a bunch of challenged folks trying to figure out how to do life in the community in which they find themselves.
I don’t generally credit myself with the amount of exertion it takes to just be me. It is work to be me and all of the intersectional identities of me. It is work to e a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a sibling, a parent, an educator, or a leader. It is work to be whatever you wake up every day aspiring to be and do. My favorite Bible verse is Psalm 139:14 that speaks about me being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139 speaks about the work it took to make me with care paying close attention to the details. It’s too bad that it takes me being worn out from the labor and the distraction of caring for others to remember that even when a Master craftsman builds a thing maintenance must follow.
I believe that each of us was designed to make a unique global contribution. I also believe that such a responsibility mandates maintenance of the vessel in order to achieve optimal performance. I am thankful for so many people who made me a priority and took time to call, text, email, or literally sit down with me to remind me that it is alright to take time to decompress, to recover, and to breath deep healing breaths. I appreciate the admonishment to plan opportunities for quiet and solace. Both are necessary in the process of renewal and restoration of the foundational truths in Psalm 139 and to provide me the ability to draw from the inner strength it takes to do me every day.