Two things can be true at the same time. You can feel sad and excited, you can grieve and feel relief, you can love two people, you can wish the best for a person and mourn their leaving, you can feel alone and married, you can be scared and over-the-moon-can’t- wait-excited. Many things can be true, we can doubt and have faith, we can love one flavour but hate the rest, you can be a feminist and love Barbie.
There is little more dangerous than the tendency people have to silo people and feelings into neatly packaged categories, boxes and binaries. This is how we end up in the world of assumptions and stereotypes and that leads to being misunderstood and worse, stigmatized.
But this is not about politics and level playing fields and the importance of open minds and the capacity to think again. (Although all of these things are essential.) This is about me, at this moment in time when I am straddling two worlds and many opposing feelings all at the same time. This maelstrom of emotion is in my body, my heart and my mind and I wonder how I can feel it all.
In 3 weeks I will walk away from the classroom, after 16 years of teaching. Teaching is a huge part of my identity. It is also a significant part of my life; I am good at it, I am compensated with a decent salary, good benefits and consistent, positive feedback. I am surrounded by collaborative and kind colleagues, all equally passionate and devoted, no two days are the same, and, being institutionalized, I have a pavlovian response to a bell: when I hear one, I turn on my heels and go to the next class on my pre-set timetable. My job as a teacher is vital, creative, time pressured and often fun. It is also exhausting and we often feel like mice scrambling to keep up with a spinning wheel. The texts and topics I teach keep changing and I am kept on my toes, intellectually, reading and learning every day. Staying in this job would be safe, I would know what the next months would look like, it would be the same life as I have now. I would get to teach cool kids and hangout with cool friends and eat cake with them all at break time.
So why leave?
Because I listened and I heard a voice telling me it was time. Because I found something I like more, because I found the courage to leap off a cliff and I made the parachute that will open as I descend into a new world. Unknown, different, scary and quite possibly lonely.
I am feeling sadness and fear. I am also deeply excited, tasting the edge of freedom, hovering on the edge of a new discovery. I am going to miss the classroom so very very much but I am also so relieved that I won’t have to mark another exam or meet another deadline. I am both ready to leap and feel trepidation as I look at the view. I am going to miss those young faces every morning and I am also ready to set my own schedule. I feel guilty about the money and also ready for the challenge to build a business.
You can feel all the things and then crawl under a blanket to stifle the noise. You can embrace change and feel your heart beating with nerves as you wonder what the days will look like.
Susan Cain writes that “the bittersweet is about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. “Days of honey, days of onion,” as an Arabic proverb puts it.””
These last days are bittersweet and from this place I feel intensely alive, ready to find a sense of communion and belonging with myself at this point in time. It is my turn to discover, seek and try. Not knowing what I will find, might, in fact, be the greatest gift of all.
Let everything happen to you: Beauty and Terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
Rainer Maria Rilke