A Back-to-School Existential Crisis

Sep 9, 2019 | Faith

Today I turned the page on a fall tradition, school. No one is in school! After decades of teaching writing, or packing my children’s backpacks, or heading off to school myself, I’m sitting at my writing desk sans school. We live in a new city, in the midst of an enormous college campus and with that move I relinquished the routine of going to Chalkboard to buy school supplies, grade papers, start the fall season fresh and clean, learn an abundance of new names and faces. I confess, this is somewhat of an existential crisis that I didn’t anticipate so what is a writer and a teacher to do? Write about it.

This past —ouch! I just said “past” summer, my spiritual reading centered around Thomas Merton. He and Mr. Oswald Chambers have some pretty wise things to say about what to do when one is suffering from a no more back-to-school crisis, or any obstacle that lands in the way of living life “normally” which we all know doesn’t really exist. A better way of describing it would be a disruption in living a productive life within the design that God has given or allowed over a pattern of time, a life we are accustomed to. Chambers says:

“You can see God using some lives, but into your life an obstacle has come and you do not seem to be of any use. Keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you around the obstacle or remove it. The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles.”

“Keep paying attention to the Source.” Since that’s good news and applicable to my current life situation I wanted to capture it in my journal. I turned the page and discovered to my horror, that I’ve arrived at the LAST page of my beautiful journal. If you journal then you know the sick feeling of attachment disorder at the thought of getting a new one. Loving friends gifted me with this journal for Christmas in 2013. Five and a half years of love, loss, answered prayers and  unresolved questions, poems, drawings, book recco’s, quotes, ideas, reflections …all the critically important aspects of life are captured in this volume, soon to be retired. My writing grew tiny, could I make the last page last until at least the end of the year? As Tom Collins, the author of Good to Great says, “confront the brutal facts” —I can’t.

Journals Old and New

So, I resigned myself to cracking open a new journal which seems fitting for stepping into a new season of life. One of my students gave me a grey, leather-bound beauty with gold embossed flowers on the cover. At the time I didn’t know it, but I’ve saved it for this season, this time of uncertainty and new beginnings. When this end of year teacher’s gift came across my desk, I’d never dreamed we’d be living here, or September would arrive without fresh faced students staring at me from behind their desks. When I told my husband of now 30 years about my crisis he simply said, “You are a writer, write.” Okay then, my new journal begins…

“Stay close to the Source and write” followed by this quote from Thomas Merton which compliments what Mr. Chambers says so well,

“The relative perfection which we must attain to in this life if we are to live as sons (and daughters) of God is not the 24 hour a day production of perfect acts of virtue, but a life from which practically all the obstacles to God’s love have been removed or overcome.”

Achievement obstacles, back-to-school expectations, impatience and impertinence that my design for my life isn’t what I expected, “practically all the obstacles…removed or overcome.” When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Merton what he meant by, “practically all,” but for now, there’s Source-filled works to write with a purifying fire by my side.