Suffering is…Normal?

The month of February was brought to us by the color gray. It’s been a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. As I mentioned last week, the orangey-yellow glow of inspiration has snubbed my current 20Time project, so this week I sought help searching for some sunshine.

My friend Tom was my first wise counselor. He’s in his 70s. His advice is always sound, and his hands are always warm. “Life is suffering,” he said, explaining that we can’t change life’s stressors but we can control our reactions and actions when facing those stressors. “We make most of our suffering 100 times worse by letting it roll around in our heads becoming this bigger and bigger thing.”

When his adult daughter doesn’t call, for instance, he starts to worry. He thinks, She must be mad at me…Why else wouldn’t she call and check on me?…I must not be a good dad…Maybe I was never a good dad?…She doesn’t care…She’s selfish. I raised a selfish person who hates me. I’m a terrible dad. Finally, he breaks down and calls her, only to hear that she’s fine, the family’s fine, everyone’s busy, doing well.

“It was all in my head,” he said. “All of my fears, doubts, anger were there only to increase my suffering.”

Lately, worries about my family, my health (my brain and inner ear aren’t getting along right now), my classes, my online work, and my failing 20Time writing project are running loops through my mind. I mentioned that life is gray right now, yes?

But Tom is right – much of my suffering is of my own making. I need to remind myself there’s no such thing as an easy-breezy, trouble-free life; apparently, we’re all riding the same seesaw of joy and suffering.

How does this impact our work in education? 

Maybe it’s just the simple truth that misery loves company, but the realization that we’re all facing similar struggles has provided a few degrees of comfort this week. Teaching is filled with joy and suffering – for both teachers and students. That’s just the way it is.

Younger teachers on my Instagram feed often say, “The struggle is real” – and they’re right. The struggle IS real and it’s not going away. It’s part of life. The struggle is part of my writing project. It’s part of our family lives and relationships. It’s with us every day in our classsrooms, especially when J.J. in third period decides to bust open a bag of SourPatch Kids while you’re being observed by the v.p. Sigh.

Now not to get too woo-woo here, but Tom helped me see that suffering is connected to the meaning of life. I want peace and harmony, but I need growth. And growth cannot happen without struggle. That’s true for us as we work through our adult troubles, and it’s also true for our students who struggle daily, even hourly, as they grow.

So this morning as I’m looking at the gray clouds outside my window, I am reminded that they are necessary to make the warmth of spring so glorious when it does eventually arrive.

Next time, wisdom from my friend Leigh, who helped me discover a diabolical monster living in both our houses.

22 thoughts on “Suffering is…Normal?

  1. Lynnly Sainsbury says:

    Once again .. you succinctly stated such an important truth. I find that this stress, exaggerated by us, turns into anger, depression, frustration … all unhealthy!

    I will focus on the growth… and try to be more peaceful!

    Thanks, Laura … always so great to find new posts from you!

  2. Thanks, Lynnly. Tom’s insight brought me some peace this week, so I knew I needed to share. Hope we both have a lovely, restful weekend. 🙂

  3. Theresa Simoneaux says:

    What powerful words and thoughts! Thanks for sharing them. Guess it is just that time of the year because this BLAH-ness seems rampant with adults and kids alike (including the 11-year-old quasi-demon that lives in this house).

  4. Yup, Theresa, I’m pretty much over it – gray, grouchy, ineffective, blah… I’ve had enough, thanks.

  5. Jessica Murchie-Smith says:

    I needed to hear this today. Thank you for passing on wisdom!

  6. This is sooooo true!!! How many grizzly nights have I spent dwelling on stuff?! ARGH! Better not think about it. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, but even though I still occasionally trip, I always get right up again.

    Smile 🙂 Laura, it will soon be over! Spring is only a few days away!

  7. With gratitude for such a genuine, thoughtful, and affirming post.
    Know that I appreciate the time and soul you give to this sphere, Laura. I have never read one of your posts or watched one of your videos (or purchased one of your products) without being the better for it. Thank you.

  8. It seems to me Laura that you would be the perfect person to write a book about a teacher’s adventures in teaching. Tragi/comedy no?

  9. You are very kind and make my heart happy, Suzanne. Glad you’re here with me.

  10. Tragi/comedy, for sure, nermonab, but I’m still not sure I have a whole book inside of me. Maybe just another 300 or so blog posts? 😀

  11. I just wanted to say thank you for your blog and materials. I started teaching a few years ago with virtually no resources for my curriculum. Your work has helped me learn both how to develop curriculum and implement it in the classroom. And your words today have helped me put a situation I’m dealing with at school in perspective. So thanks for everything!

  12. Thank you, Jessica, for these kind words. They definitely help. 🙂

  13. YES. Needed to hear this in this season of life. Both in a metaphorical and literal sense, Shanghai can be so gray. However, there is so much potential for growth! This was an excellent reminder and I will hold it closely in mind this week!

  14. Sarah! So great to see your name pop up on my screen. I’m sure your teaching adventures in China are challenging and wonderful – all at the same time. Let’s have coffee (or tea?) when you get back to Idaho. 🙂

  15. Laura, I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling, but on the other hand, it’s so comforting to know that even someone as focused, creative, and talented as you faces those persistent shadows. Oh, how misery loves company! I hope you receive a burst of abundance that helps those 5:00 am writing sessions a joy (or at least a steady trickling that adds up to one big burst at some point!). Everything you do helps me keep my head on straight.

  16. Thanks for your words of encouragement, daodow. This is fuel for me. The tagline on my blog, “On a mission to prevent English teacher burnout,” is meant for me, too. The blog and kind folks like you have helped sustain my enthusiasm for the work we do. We ALL struggle and none of us has all the answers. I so appreciate having you here with me!

  17. Laura, I always appreciate your honesty and transparent openess! Since I have been reading your blog for a long time now, I feel like I know you even though you have no clue who I am🤪 so I wish I was having this conversation sitting across from you with a cup of coffee! It’s funny how things work out. One of the books my students are reading in their book clubs is called Zen and the Art of Faking It, which I love by the way! “Life is suffering” is a quote from the book that many of them chose to reflect on. Reading all of their responses made me reflect on my own life much like what you shared. Growth is never easy. The need for perfection steals my joy and causes me much suffering. I am trying to come to terms with this. So I am thinking I could hear you say to your kids your project doesn’t have to be perfect it should reflect your best effort 🙂 so maybe give yourself the same love and patience. After all, Harper Lee’s first work, which was probably never meant to be read, eventually became a masterpiece. I really do wish I could convey how much you have helped me through the years-as a new teacher, as a teacher just trying to find her way, as a woman trying to find balance. So teacher friend, again you have inspired me!
    “The heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It Is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.”
    “The Testing Tree” by Stanley Kunitz

  18. This is beautiful, Karen, and so true. I always tell my kids that failure is an option in their 20Time projects, and it seems it might be time to give myself that same soothing talk. I also might need to pick up that book; it seems to have the advice I need to hear. Thanks for being with me on this blog adventure. (*Raising coffee cup in a toast to you this morning.*)

  19. Ashley Nelson says:

    I agree with all you said, but I just wanted to drop a line of sunshine. I will never forget a conversation in my 9th lit classroom about the Gift of the Magi. It was a class of 9th lit in a high-risk school. We were talking about the “gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard” line. I was asking the students about why the narrator chose this particular description. The generally noisy class grew silent and thoughtful. Then this kiddo who doesn’t normally participate gets super excited, and says, “I’ve got it.” I look up, and I’m genuinely excited for him because of the look on his face. He says, “She’s color blind! Boom!” hahahahahahaha All of the other kids looked like he’d blown their minds. Needless to say, we had to go back and discuss that we had to evidence to support our claims before we could accept them as absolute truth. But I still giggle thinking about it.

  20. Ohmygosh, Ashley, that is too much! Colorblindness? How could I’ve missed that? Thanks for the laugh with my coffee this morning! 😀

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