Learning to Be While Becoming

A year or so ago as I was transitioning into my doctoral program, I wrote to my professor (who would later become my advisor) in our weekly reflection that I worried I would never be able to study, or work, or accomplish enough to escape a sense of pervasive emotional pain that I was dealing with at the time.

I had for a long time labored under the delusion that there was some amount of money I could make, or amount of the world I could see, of accolades I could achieve that would shut the door on everything that had preceded it, and finally I would be free.

I’m a bit older now, and I realize that’s simply not how things work—which of course my professor pointed out (gently) at the time, reminding me of Linda Adler-Kassner’s frequent suggestion that we bring the entirety of our stories with us to every context that we occupy.

That includes all the pain and grief, but also the good moments, and the good things that we are (hopefully) trying to make happen in our lives, as well as the lives of others.

I’d like to believe that we can release the things it feels like we cannot escape, but as I spend more time processing the events of my own life and helping other people work through theirs, it occurs to me that it is more likely that (under the most ideal circumstances) we simply develop new vantage points from which we can interface with our experiences and feelings; we master new tools to bear old weights, and new strategies for dealing with the pains that, like life’s joys, are inevitably ahead of us.

While I can’t say that this is the most relaxing concept, I can take solace in knowing that all of this is a process—and that rarely is a moment of discomfort, or sadness, or failure, or even a good day the end of the world.

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