02 September 2009
So I've taught three days in my new life. Each one has ended the same way: I've been exhausted!
At least my fatigue has nothing to do with my students, other faculty or staff members or even any of the insanity that normally accompanies the beginning of any college semester. Rather, it is a reminder that I am indeed still recovering from my surgery.
Every one of the four classes I'm teaching is full. Cady Ann, the department secretary, told me they'd filled up by the end of the first day of registration. The college increased the maximum number of students enrolled in each class, then added overtallies to two of my classes, as well as many others in the college. The result is that I have 114 students, whereas I would have had only 90 (assuming the classes were at their maximum enrollments) last year. When you're grading papers rather than multiple-choice tests, that's quite a difference.
And, at the last minute, one of my courses was changed--from one I could teach in my sleep to one I'd never before taught. So I had to make up an entirely new syllabus. That cut a few hours off my sleep time.
The weird thing is that as tired as I've been, and with as many people who've been tugging at my sleeve, I don't think I've ever been so focused and simply present for my students, and everyone else. A few of my students from last year are in classes I'm teaching now; all of them have said that I look "different." They meant it in a positive way. So did some of my colleagues, in and out of my department, who said the same thing.
And it's interesting that I'm hearing the same words from people who, as far as I know, don't even talk to each other: "glowing," "radiant," "shining." They're describing the way I look to them, but they probably don't know that they were describing the way I've felt. Ever since the surgery, even on my more difficult days (which, actually, haven't been so bad), I've felt as if a sun were opening and refulgent inside me. It's as if I couldn't stop radiating joy, even if I'd wanted to. And why would I want that?
Some female faculty members and students--as well as two women who work in the Provost's office and another who works in the college cafeteria--embraced me and said, "Welcome." Yes, I shed a few tears--the good kind: the ones I can blame on the estrogen!
To think that, just a few years ago, I was snarling and sneering my way through life like some Method actor playing James Dean--or a terrible imitation of one. Masks are lots of fun on Halloween, but living in them can keep you from breathing. Or, at least, they can make things foggy when you exhale.
But my most gratifying moment came when I was talking with an adjunct faculty member I met when we were both adjuncts at another college. As I was talking with him, a petite, dark-haired former student whom I hadn't seen in about a year ran up to me and hugged me.
She is a talented writer who worked very hard and actively sought my advice about her work. Of course she earned an "A."
One day during the following semester, she asked whether she could "take up" some of my time. She "came out" to me and described the difficulties her orientation has caused her with her family. It's put a particular strain on her relationship with her mother because her boyfriend is a deacon in a particularly homophobic church, she said. And her aunt, who had been supportive, was dying of cancer.
That aunt is gone now. At least she's not in any more pain, my former student sighed. Not long after that, she moved away from her mother and into an apartment with two friends. And now she's on track to graduate at the end of this semester.
"I figured that if you were doing what you've been doing, I don't have any excuse not to do what I need to do," she said.
It's good to have the chance to shine your light for someone like her. I have a feeling I'm going to be tired for much of the time, at least during the first few weeks of this semester. At least I'm being energized spiritually and emotionally. That, I hope, will carry me through the coming days, and brighten the lives of those who see me.
And now I'm starting to nod off. Tomorrow's another day. After what I've experienced so far, I'm looking forward to it.