Cardboard Boxes May Contain Feelings

Yesterday I packed up all of the things I had kept in the classroom I had been in since September and took them home. After spending most of the year in someone else’s chair, I didn’t have a ton of stuff to carry out, and it all fit neatly in one box. I say it fit neatly, but actually it was the heaviest box I’ve ever carried a long distance. Now, here comes the dumb part. I got a bruise carrying this box.

I know you are thinking it could have been avoided, and you would be correct. I have 2 rolling carts that were parked in the hallway, and either one would have done the job. I would have had to bring back the cart though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. See, I was crying as I was leaving. After a day of training with some amazing people, I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. I didn’t feel my work was done, and yet it was for the moment. I had to leave. I wanted to make a quick exit. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

On the way out of the building I saw 3 people. They all offered to help me. I refused each one of them. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I have a few reasons. (None of them are really good.)

1.That box was my stuff. It was stuff I had brought into the building at one point. I should bring the stuff back out. I am responsible. If I had a coffin full of stuff to carry out, it would be my own fault.

2. I wanted to feel like I could carry my own stuff. If I brought it in, I should be able to carry it out. It was ONE box. If I couldn’t make it to my car with one box, wouldn’t that make me a loser? It sure felt like it would. Allowing someone to help me would cheapen my small feat of making it through this school year intact.

3. I kept telling myself my car was not that far. Yes, I parked in the back, and it was farther than it would have been. Yes, I had to make it down a long hallway, a short hallway, across a courtyard, through a fence, and across a parking lot, BUT I am strong. I felt like I could do it because each step got me closer than I was.

So, with each step, I swear, this box got heavier. I shifted the box. I hugged the box. I put the box down a few times and readjusted. My brain knew the box was the same box, the same weight, and still just as awkward, but with each stop my hope renewed that this box was going to be in my car in just a few minutes! When I finally got there to the car as I placed the box in the backseat and sighed, I also felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then today, I see this bruise, and it figures.

What a great lesson! Emotionally I want to carry things on my own, and I want to feel that I clean up my own messes. This doesn’t mean a load full of feelings and emotions is not going to be too heavy to reasonably carry for long distances. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy trip. Having good friends to help us along the way is priceless. If you are carrying something heavy on the inside, those bruises are only going to heal with time, just like my arm.

The Absolute Value of Humans

This week I taught 5th graders about integers.  We discussed the number line they were used to, which started with zero and only had positive numbers, and then I added in negative numbers.  We practiced getting used to this number line by doing the integer dance.  It closely resembled the electric slide, but the point was to get the students used to moving positive and negative directions.  After all, number lines can be tricky.

We are taught in primary grades that zero is a starting place.  Eventually we get fluent enough in math to amend our previous thoughts about zero and the number line to include negative numbers.  So, now our number line increases to show that really, zero is the middle of a big scale with infinite integers on each side. All numbers on both sides gain their identity from the zero, or the origin.  So, you could say the value of a number is dictated by how far away a number is from the origin, or zero.  This is the absolute value. This week while teaching I wondered “what if we saw people with absolute values, instead of only positives and negatives?”

Zero is the only integer that is neither positive nor negative.  In theory we all want to be greater than zero.  No one wants to be a negative number.  Theoretically being a negative number means you are worse than when you started at the origin.  Zero technically means no objects are present.  If you offer a child zero popsicles, zero pieces of candy, or zero trips to the zoo it might seem to them that zero is a negative, but really, it isn’t.  It’s just unrealized potential.  Zero of something just means nothing has been added or taken away.

Life is just a giant number line.  It’s a series of positives and negatives.  We take steps forward, and we take steps backward. Sometimes we are way ahead of the origin.  Sometimes we are behind the origin.  There are times we tend to feel our value is less than zero when more bad than good happens.  I was encouraged when I thought about absolute value.  We can be -6 or 6 from zero, and the absolute value of both of these is still 6.  There are no negatives in absolute value.  So, even when we have terrible things happen, our value is never negative.  We are always just so many spaces away from where we started, and knowing that can help us get back on the right path, which is right back up the number line.  As we take steps up and down the number line, instead of focusing on the negatives, it is a lot more fun to pretend we are just doing the electric slide.

The View from the Existential Porch

A porch used to be a state of mind, especially in the South.  It was a place to wax philosophical about the world and everything wrong with it.  It was a place to share news, shuck corn, snap green beans, and catch a breeze.  In the year 2014 modern conveniences like air conditioning and refrigeration have caused us to lose the need for fresh air. When we lost that, we lost valuable communication time.  Last week I caught a glimpse of the past with a couple of friends.

We are lied to as children and teens and told that one day when we become adults we will be able to do exactly what we want. All too often life gets in the way, and it leaves no time for us to do those things we wish to do.  But once in a while stars align, and we end up on the porch with friends, old and new. I found myself on my porch surrounded by friendship, laughter, and cigar smoke.  I ended up with an evening that couldn’t possibly have been planned in the best kind of way.

Perhaps the porch atmosphere first exists within ourselves.  Maybe the porch is an existential porch before it can be anything else.  The people on your porch define your porch.  For instance, on my porch I had two friends.  One old friend and one brand new friend helped define that porch for me.  We are subject to what others will allow us to share withholding judgement.  We are also subject to what we feel comfortable sharing and discussing.  That particular night felt like a no-holds-barred getting real with ourselves kind of night.  That is probably the rarest of porches.

What makes a porch a porch?  As I was sitting outside under the stars with my friends talking about everything from philosophy to theology, love to divorce, and all the things that make us humans, I realized I was in a  consecrated gathering place.  I was in a meeting of sorts, although a very relaxed one, holding council with people that matter about the things of our lives that matter. I watched my concrete (in both senses of the word)  porch transform in front of me into a state of mind where  I experienced acceptance, thoughtfulness, and companionship.  I laughed, I thought deeply, and I listened to two guys that at times I was doing well to catch 5% of what they were talking about.  I grew as a person.  I considered things.  I wrote down books I wanted to read.  I never wanted to leave the porch. Why would you want to leave a place that made you glad to be a human?  I could have stayed on the porch for days.

How did I end up on this porch?  The short answer is relationship.  A porch is a starting and ending point.  It can be where you greet someone new, or it can be where you watch someone exit.  You can turn a stranger on your porch into a friend.  Some porches are traveled on everyday.  Some people wind up on our porches more than others.  In today’s society, we are used to finding our identity in what we have instead of who we are.  If we drive a nice car, have a nice job, and have a nice television we must be good people. But what happens when people never get past the porch? Will they still like you when they aren’t going to sit anywhere but the front steps?  Can you offer others undivided attention, heartfelt concern, and thought provoking questions?  Do you have friends that you can debate whether you are looking at a star or an airplane for 10 minutes straight?

Your porch is what you make it.  What kind of porch do you sit on?  Some people have a hard time seeing past themselves, but a porch can help you see the world in a different way.  It can be a place to share humanness, struggles, and advice.  It can make new friends seem like old friends.  It can remind you why your old friends are still your friends after all these years.  Sometimes the easiest way to go somewhere is to stay on the porch, and the places you end up may be out of this world.

Unapologetically A Human

Lined up across the room of my 8th grade literature class was every student waiting for their turn in the spelling bee. I was sweating bullets when I finally got my first word.  It was the first round, and I was so relieved when I heard my word.  Sugar.  I was so excited I quickly blurted out S-U-G-E-R.  I then promptly smacked myself in the face before the teacher had a chance to tell me I was wrong.  I knew I was wrong.  I heard it with my own ears. To say I felt stupid is the understatement of at least 3 decades. My first word in the spelling bee was also my last. The other kids went on spelling words for what seemed like forever while I sat cuddled up in my shame. I guarantee those kids don’t even remember that day, while it is marked in my history forever.

We all do dumb things.  We all get overconfident and immediately become righteously human in ways unimaginable seconds before. Moments of weakness remind us daily we are not deity, and we should have no such grandiose opinions of what we are capable of doing. To remove all doubt, I’ll admit that just this week I tripped over my own feet a few times, closed the door to teacher’s lounge on the principal I’m currently working for, had my car get stuck in gear and lurch forward in front of a group of new friends, and I called someone by the wrong name 4 times in a row.  Did I mention it is just Monday? So, my point is impressing people isn’t exactly a forte of mine.

We all want to belong.  That’s why we struggle with rejection from an early age.  It doesn’t matter if we are on the playground, in a classroom, or even at home with our siblings.  We strive to fit in.  We want to make people like us because it’s a part of what makes us human.  To be rejected on a basic level is devastating.  As children, those that reject us will be considered sworn enemies for a lifetime or until the next week when a different kid tells us we can’t play kickball, we are picked last for a team, or we are laughed at for not having the current cool item.

As nice as it would be, this doesn’t go away when we become grown ups.  We want to seem acceptable to our peers.  Some of us might want to be the funniest, the prettiest, the nicest, the best cook, the best party thrower, or even the best screw up, but we all want to be something to someone.  To be nothing to anyone says we are practically invisible and unimportant somehow.  As a fly on the wall at any water cooler scenario you could listen in to conversation to see that the basic need to not be rejected is still relevant and alive in any person.  Can some people generally not care?  Yes, I believe that is possible.  On a more specific note we all have people who we invest in their opinions more than others.  We will care about them, even if we don’t mind the herd’s point of view.

Lately I’ve been considering what happens to you after repeated rejection? What if the rejection is from the one person that has an opinion that matters to you?  I know what was true for me.  I started to tell myself stories. I made excuses for the person rejecting me.  I considered maybe the person didn’t like himself. Maybe he is hurting right now because of something that he is going through.  Or perhaps he is depressed. He had a poor situation growing up, so maybe that explained it.  Specific days of rejection I’d say to myself that he must have had a bad day at work. In general, I would hypothesize that perhaps he just didn’t value the same things I did.

As a result of all these stories I told myself something sinister happened.  The stories stopped being about the person who was rejecting me emotionally, and they started to be about me.  When the person I looked to for affection or affirmation didn’t have the reaction I was hoping for, I told myself I told the story wrong.  I felt like I was annoying them by needing attention in the first place, and just maybe I was too needy emotionally, and they deserved to be left alone instead of being bothered by me and my needs.  I felt like my narrative was uninteresting, and no one would want to hear about my day.  I questioned whether jokes were funny because he never laughed. It didn’t matter what excuse or reason I ended up telling myself for the day, the end result was the same. I felt alone, lonely, unloved, and unwanted.

Do you sometimes do dumb things?  Of course you do.  That makes us the humans we are.  If anything the stories that make us dorky or human should unite us and bond us.  We all have them, after all. Moreover, our stories are not important unless we tell them.  Our stories make us who we are, and we are wired to want to share, build community, relate, and communicate.  Relationships are tricky, but wanting to be accepted transcends age, gender, location, and whether we were popular as a young person.  There are people out there that want to hear your stories.  They want to invest in you.  They want to know about the time you spelled sugar wrong in a spelling bee, how you poured liquid soap into the dishwasher once and caused an evening of agony, and the time you took Benadryl right before a church service and couldn’t stop singing “I Feel Good” during the sermon.   If someone isn’t investing in you, don’t stop telling your stories. Tell the stories anyway.  Those that matter will adore them.  If they don’t, they just aren’t your people anyway.