The word “anxiety” has been thrown around a lot over the last few months. Anxiety is a state of fear or apprehension about what is to come. It is the body’s response to stressful situations. For many, anxiety is high because of the pandemic alone. Not withstanding the changes in normalcy it has brought.
One thing I am more anxious about than any other thing, as we face down an unprecedented start to the fall, is that we will sacrifice our common civility for the sake of our own fear.
In the past, something that has bound us together in relationship with one another is our kindness and caring. How we become connected to one another, through bonds that withstand and are secure, is through the pledge of mutual cooperation and understanding. The way we find strength is through the reciprocal relationships we share with others, founded on common decency, respect, compassion and care.
If these ideals are sacrificed for the sake of our own interests, for the sake of our own desires and rights, we are in for a tumultuous fall and winter.
A little story to illustrate.
Recently, I had an episode that involved a chronic condition that is worsened by stress. I went to my local ER and was triaged.
Immediately, I was taken into an observation room, called to go behind the doors that are designated as a “holding tank” for those of us who have been assessed. There, in that little, cramped room, I stayed stationary for two and a half hours, waiting to be seen by the physician on call.
While I passed the time, I second-guessed myself. I questioned my decision to come in. Wondered if I was wasting the doctor’s time. Wondered if this was all in my head. Wondered if the nurses and doctor might tell me this was an issue that required a family doctor, not a busy emergency room staff. Wondered if I would be given a scolding for my stupid decision to be there in the first place.
And while I wondered, I felt ashamed for my choice to relinquish my time, so as to sit there, useless, using up their precious emergency room and its resources.
When the doctor finally came in the room, and I explained what I was experiencing, rather than shame me for my poor decision-making or belittle me for the waste of publicly funded medical time, I was given great care and attention. This doctor spent a great deal of his time listening, explaining, offering suggestions, while also giving me some insight into his own personal experience having used a similar treatment as what he prescribed to me.
In short, he cared.
Let me say this: I know that the good doctor had not come to me rejuvenated and just off a break. For a solid hour, I heard from the next room over a traumatic situation involving a child that took up a great deal of his time and attention. He was not fresh off the block and I was not his first patient of the day.
And yet, he treated me like I was.
He was kind. He was caring. He was compassionate. He was professional. He was top notch.
Not in the least dismissive or cold.
I hope to take notes from our front-line colleagues in the medical profession as we in the education milieu start off on our own journey. These friends serve with grace and compassion. They are tireless and professional. And as I observed them in action recently, I was making mental post-its to myself as to what “to do” when my own time comes.
We humans sometimes forget that each of us have our own stories. Each have their own troubles and their own lives outside the public world that everyone see. Life is filled with struggle and pain, and none of us are immune. I know this personally. My own story is often a painful one. But it is easy to forget, when dealing with “real life people” that might operate differently than we do, that they have a story, too. That they might have another way of dealing with things that perhaps rubs us the wrong way or makes the hairs prickle on our neck, but their way and decisions for acting are done with intention and with a goal in mind to support their survival.
Not always meant to be a personal attack.
Because not everything is personal. It is not always about us.
Bottom line: we cannot change other peoples’ responses or reactions. We can only deal with our own.
This admirable doctor, by virtue of what he shared with me in our conversation, obviously has dealt with stress-related illness. He had a “story”. And yet, he was kind, compassionate and caring, nonetheless. His story did not negate the fact that he was able to offer me kindness and compassion. He did not use his own troubles to place a screen around himself and allow himself a free pass for being cranky and mean. Not at all. He chose to be kind in spite of his own life. He chose compassion in spite of his own story.
And that was the beauty of it for me.
I am moving into what will likely be the most stressful year of my teaching career thus far. There will be more stress, more anxiety, more tension, more probability for things to go wrong. More everything.
There will also be endless opportunities for compassion.
I am taking note of what it felt like recently, to be on the receiving end of a compassionate interaction.
This is what I am taking with me into the school year. I am taking my God-given ability to choose. And I choose this:
I choose to be kind.
I choose to be compassionate.
I choose to not transfer my stress on others, dealing with it in healthy, productive ways that do not place undue pressure on those around me.
I choose to listen rather than always have the “right” answer.
I choose to take a deep breathe before reacting to what I deem is an attack/offense.
I choose to help. Choose to offer a hand whenever and wherever I can.
I choose to collaborate and be a team player.
I choose to think “glass half full” rather than “glass half empty”.
I choose to be cooperative.
I believe that these choices will bode me well. And I take, from watching my colleagues on the front lines, that my decision to see the best in what is not an ideal situation will place my feet on the right path, headed in the right direction.
This is what I believe.
This is what I choose.
It will be alright.