Sometimes I worry. More than I let on, even. Am I a good enough teacher? Where will we live next year? Will we have enough to retire on when we are ready? When will my parents die? Will their decline be traumatic? Will my daughter be spared some of the more painful parts of growing up? Will my marriage last? What will I do next?
During the day, it is easy enough to simply put these worries aside. At night it is harder. There are fewer distractions and the dark seems to be where these worries like to lurk anyway.
So, a few nights ago I woke up at 3 in the morning and my fears kicked in full-force right away. They were relentless and drove me out of the bed and down into the living room—into the light. I won’t say what they were because they were what they always are—irrational, exaggerated, and destructive. But that particular night the light did not drive them away.
I tried to write them away, but that didn’t work either. The only thing that really chased them off was the rising of the sun and the start of another regular work day. I find these worries have a strange aversion to daily routine—once I boil the water to make the coffee, turn on the morning news on NPR, and get started on Isabel’s lunch, routine replaces worry and another day begins.
That particular day was a Wednesday and on Wednesday the school where I teach has a School Meeting. I take my students up to the fourth floor of our converted factory building and we sit on the carpet, along with our Meeting Buddies---the kindergarten and first grade students. All of the other students of the school are there too, as are the staff, administrators, and many parents. We sing songs, recognize birthdays, hear announcements, and share with the school community details about what we are doing in our classes. It is a tradition I love.
As the meeting began we were singing a song about a river. It is a song I have come to really like, in spite of itself. The chorus goes like this: “River, take me along in your sunshine, sing me your song, ever moving and winding and free, you rolling old river, you changing old river, let’s you and me river run down to the sea.” It embodies the worst excesses of many folk songs about rivers, and when I hear 120 kids singing it full-throatedly, it moves me.
So, on that morning of hard-to-kill worries I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by happy kids, singing a song about a river when I noticed the hair of the second-grader in front of me. It was in two tight braids that were remarkably well done. I stared at those braids and started to think about the person who sat for a long time and patiently, lovingly brushed out this girl’s hair. Whoever it was that wove those braids spent a lot of time and effort doing something for this girl that she could not do for herself. Those braids spoke of patience and unselfishness and intimacy and love. By the time the song was over and I turned away from those braids, my worries had beaten a hasty retreat and I moved into my day ready for whatever it was going to bring. Just took a simple reminder.