After the Thaw

As I began to thaw out at the end of The Big Chill of ’21, I started thinking about the fact that this was one more hurdle that seems to be keeping me from getting on with my life. There is a next chapter awaiting me. Lines I need to start writing in the story that will go on.

“Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” ― Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

I don’t think the hurdles in my way are really all that personal. My wife passed away to heaven after a four year battle with stage 4 breast cancer. It ultimately traveled to her brain. That’s what finally stopped her. People deal with struggle and loss every single day. This happened in the Fall – in the Spring, the COVID-19 virus arrived.

At Spring Break ’20, college students across the country were sent home and learning was converted to a remote model. That took a lot of fancy footwork on the part of instructors and students, all the while trying to learn difficult subjects.  Undergraduate students struggle with online learning, period. We continue to work hard to try and figure out the best ways to make this work for everyone involved. It’s now a year later.

I spent the summer doing a lot of baby-sitting. My daughter was doing much of her work remotely from home. That’s tough with a two-year old on the loose. I was able to spend much more time with them, keeping him busy. Little did I know then how precious those days would become. They told me in July that careers were forcing a move to Dallas at the end of  that Summer.

Losing part of your support system can be a monumental obstacle that slows down the move forward. It will be done – but at a different speed.  Without people near, it’s hard to always know for certain which direction is the right one. Loved ones give us reinforcement and feedback, most of the time without even realizing it.

“Give feedforward not feedback.” ― Chris Dyer

Once this Fall of 2020 arrived, college life was following a full pandemic script. Everyone was learning their lines as best they could. It was still reasonably new territory for students, faculty and administrators alike. The delivery of instruction was still being reinvented, learning from mistakes and fixing as we plunged forward.  Helping students figure out all the pitfalls was a significant priority.

Spring arrived and we kept learning what works better and what doesn’t. The Christmas break had been spent making major adjustments to courses and getting new ones ready. And then the fifth week came and with it a brutal winter storm. We closed up shop for the whole week. Who would have thought the most advanced civilization in the history of the world couldn’t turn their heaters on when it got cold outside?

All of these twists and turns in the road have kept me busy. Notice I am using the word “busy.” I keep learning and try to help others stay ahead of the tidal waves. When I think about it all (and I’m not really doing that enough), what’s got me frustrated is not knowing how to start working on my next chapter – because there seems to be something new on fire to put out every time I turn around.

After each tumultuous event arrives and we all figure out a way to ride it out – something else seems to be arriving on the next flight. I don’t want to admit that this is my new normal.

“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” ― E.A. Bucchianeri

I also wonder if I’ve spent enough time resting in a normal flow of life so that I could grieve. Then I think about the bigger picture and how people have always had to deal with death and disaster, mostly without the luxury of time to process it all. When the barbarians invade, there’s no time to see a counselor.

I Thought Growing Old Would Take Longer

Is this just impatience? Fear always scratching at my door about so many uncertainties, especially when I start doing the math and counting the number of arrows left in my quiver. I’m starting to fall apart. Will I really be able to make it into this next chapter, whatever that’s going to look like?

“And I realized that there’s a big difference between deciding to leave and knowing where to go.”  ― Robyn Schneider

To be perfectly honest, God has been carrying me along, it’s been clear to me, during all of this year (and even way back, as I reflect). It makes me think about my worries and how unfounded they really are. Maybe I need to think bigger about all of this?

I started to think about all of these obstacles to my moving forward a few weeks before the great freeze last week. As Texas thaws out from the great Valentine’s Day Ice Storm, I’m also experiencing some clearing in the weather between my ears. Right now, halfway through the writing of this post, I have changed my view and my frustration.

What if waiting for life to get back to normal isn’t realistic?

What’s normal supposed to be?

What if today is all that’s for certain?

Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise. – Psalm 90:12

Why Wait?

So, instead of focusing my attention (and frustration) on waiting for all of these obstacles to go away so I can start to figure out how I’m going to live my new normal life – the real life I should be trying to live is the one that’s right here in front of me. There is no tomorrow. There is just today. Sorry to sound like a hippie. But I can honestly report, I am missing out on too much here and now because I’m waiting for an imaginary bus to arrive.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Why I hate an empty bus stop - Chalkdust

I’m going to start turning the pages right now, instead of waiting. I’m going to invent my routines so that they lead me through the current semester. The main objective is to be as people focused as I can. The one thing I am more acutely aware of is that there is much more uncertainty, pain and struggle. I need to do what I can to help – just today, with who is in my path, as little or as much.

“In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now. You can’t measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. ‘Time’ doesn’t pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of.” ― Paulo Coelho

What Dreams May Come?

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” ― Henry David Thoreau

How To Control Your Dreams With Lucid Dreaming - Original Products Botanica  | Original Products Botanica

Of course Hamlet was speaking of death in that partial quote of my title there. Here I’m just writing about the everyday dreaming that we do at night (I’m not even going to go into those daydreams that take place while you’re stuck in traffic).

I know how to interpret your dreams if anyone is interested. It’s not an exact science. Dreams happen for three different reasons. (1) Our brain is filing away its memories – this is why people who don’t get enough sleep start to have trouble remembering when they are awake. (2) We dream because we have unresolved conflicts, worries, decisions or problems that are sometimes standing with one foot in our conscious and another in our subconscious. (3) Sometimes God sends messages to us in our dreams – this doesn’t produce confusion but clarity, peace and assurance. Unless you need a swift kick.

Over the past year I have started the practice of intentionally willing myself to dream. It happens to me in the early morning hours. I awake too early and then decide to go back for one more round of R.E.M. sleep. I tell myself that I want a dream and I want to remember it. I think because I am so close to awakening at the start, it’s easier to remember the dream. But it happens more times than it doesn’t. I’d say nine out of ten times.

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” ― Neil Gaiman

It just happened very early this morning. I dreamed that I was having to administer an exam to a class of students. But I also had another class of students next door. As I handed out the tests I discovered I didn’t have enough. I panicked – this is a common fear and one of mine in particular. I always make way too many copies. I left the building to go make more copies – also with the added worry that there was another room full of students waiting for me.

When I got outside there was a car with some people in it waiting to take me to make copies. Matthew McConaughey was driving the car. I had just seen a number of references to him while watching a terrible football game on TV Saturday. Well, he started driving but in the wrong direction. I don’t remember what he was saying, sounded like one of those weird car commercial soliloquys that he has done in the past. All I knew was that we were not going to make copies and that disaster was eminent.

Here is when I awoke.

I’m really behind with deadlines at work. I can’t seem to find my motivation. There’s something else distracting me and taking me in the other direction but I don’t know what it is yet. It’s certainly not Mr. University of Texas reciting lines from his latest Lincoln commercial! (That’s probably just deep seated frustration at someone not being able to pass the football).

“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do.” ― Haruki Murakami

So here we are swimming in crises after crises. Surely the end will come, it always does. But in the meantime, we can always dream.

Be sure that you’re getting enough sleep – pollsters are telling us that some areas of our mental health are improving during the quarantine because we are sleeping more. This helps people to dream more and to reinforce memory.

Write down dreams that you remember – this can help if there’s something mysterious that needs to be resolved. Talk about your dream over breakfast with your spouse. You concrete-literalists out there, open up your symbolic thinking drawer a little. The more you ponder, the greater the chances you will stumble across some solutions.

It’s possible that one day, God may want to say something to you. It’s not beyond the realm of impossibility that he would use a dream. Don’t worry about it. He won’t contradict what he’s already said. He won’t try and confuse you. It will usually be a treasured experience. That is, unless you’re wandering off in left field and need a strong hand to bring you back home.

“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” ― Charles Dickens