I start back to school as a student tomorrow. For the past 2 years, I led the teachers who taught the students. For the 10+ years before that, I taught the students. And now, tomorrow, I’ll be the student. I’ll attend the orientation that I used to organize, facilitate, and run. I’ll sit in the desks I used to arrange. I’ll look up, anxious, curious, exhausted, at the board to take notes. I’ll sit in nervous anticipation as essays are passed back, bracing myself to see the red-penned feedback (actually it was fine-tipped green Sharpie for me) scrawled and crammed in my margins.
I completed my college courses when I was 21, then turned 22 while I was student teaching seniors, and graduated college before I even turned 22.5. And I never went back. It was the deep dive into classroom teaching and then administration for me – trial by fire, education through experience. And so, it’s been 13 years since I was the student.
I packed my backpack on Friday, thinking carefully about each item I placed within its tweed gray interior, distilling an entire office worth of school supplies into this one tiny space. Will I need paperclips? Headphones? My planner? Mouthwash? My whistle that the P.E. teacher once gave me and made me put on my lanyard after I was trapped behind my desk by an aggressive and hostile student? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and don’t fuck with me, you Lutheran seminary students – I have a whistle and I’m not afraid to use it.
Despite my royal blue, extra loud whistle, I’ve had so much anxiety the past few days. My face gets twitchy when my nerves get bad…extra blinky and clicky in my throat and weird face scrunches that I don’t typically do. My anxiety is so similar to what I felt all those times leading up to other first days in a new school: in kindergarten, in 4th grade, in 4th grade again, in 8th grade, in 10th grade. College.
Will my first day of school be like it was at my second 4th grade, when Miss Goldsmith with the coveted bright red hair paired me up with the cool, smart group of girls – and I had an instant and irrevocable “in”? Or will it be like my first day of school in 8th grade, when I ate lunch on the floor of a bathroom stall because I was so shy and so nervous and so very alone? Or perhaps it will be like college, where I met my roommate and instantly knew I would be okay because we would have each other….
The funny thing is that my husband and I will be students together. How unexpected is that?! In our thirties, with our little lunchboxes and our school bags all packed up, me using his used used books because I’m taking many of the same classes he took last year. But even though I know he’ll be there, there’s still the little bulb of fear in my stomach, still the desire to have friends of my own, still the nagging worry of the who and where and how of it all – but especially lunch, because GOODNESS GRACIOUS lunch is scary when you’re new.
I went to a hot yoga class this morning (107 degrees with 40% humidity – holy crap), and I went because I wanted to and because I felt the urge to move and stretch. Yet when the instructor asked us to set our intentions for the hour, my mind instantly asked for Peace. And I knew that yes, that was what I was longing for, that was what would switch off the fear bulb and calm my twitchy face. Through the course of that hour, as the sweat dripped and ran in rivers, I found my peace. And when the instructor asked us during savasanna to check-in with ourselves and our intentions, my mind instantly said, “I belong here.” My sarcastic self didn’t even challenge my mind, because the phrase was instantly and very placidly upon me – I belong here.
Not in my office, not running PD, not planning lessons, not grading papers – but HERE. I belong HERE. I BELONG here. And with this I know there will be no eating lunch in a bathroom stall because I belong. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or natural – because we all know I’ll be sweated through my shirt in approximately 2 minutes tomorrow morning – but it will be okay because I BELONG. This is the epitome of grace: that I can be nervous, scared, anxious, unsure – and still, belong.