I believe in subtlety, contradiction, and complexity. I believe that absolutes are relative, and I believe that relativity is subjective. I believe that beliefs themselves are nearly impossible to identify, because if they are truly held, then they are not beliefs, but facts. Conversely, I also believe that facts owe their existence first and foremost to belief.
My spiritual and intellectual life has been marked by one crisis of faith after another. I am smart, I am not smart. I believe, I don’t. I am a good teacher, I am incompetent. I’m right, I’m wrong. I’m happy, I am lost. I love avocadoes, I hate avocadoes. I am living in the foggy grey mist of daybreak and twilight, and I’m rather enjoying it. Instead of holding tight to one vision of myself and my world, I am constantly constructing and then tearing down my own identity, belief system, and perception. I’m a work in progress, and I’m okay with that. Twilight happens to be my favorite time of day, and life without a crisis or two is mundane and superficial at best.
I do feel, at times, like a fraud. Like I have tricked people in believing that I’ve got something to teach, despite the fact that I, myself, feel as though I know and understand very little. The massive responsibility of being a teacher feels almost absurd in my hands, as though the very fact that I’ve been hired for the job is part of a larger conspiracy to expose me for the skeptic and heretic that I am in the context of the whole institution. True: my life is firmly rooted in education. True: my life is firmly rooted in spirituality. That said, I have fainted in church on several occasions and a tremendous amount of anxiety consistently surrounds most of my church experiences. I do believe that I am allergic to institutionalized religion.
Similarly, despite my definitive addiction to learning and intellect, I have always resented the structure of schools, while finding myself simultaneously and inexplicably drawn to them. I question the bells, the rules, the very institutional quality of most school buildings, the grading process, the apathy, the sloth, the hypocrisy… and yet I suddenly find myself an arm of that very machine. I hate and yet need the structure of it. In small pockets, though, over time, I have begun to notice very beautiful things happening in my classes – not definitively beautiful, but relatively so.
Just because I don’t have a specific religion to tell me how to be nice does not mean that I will not be nice, and just because I don’t believe in confrontational rule enforcement doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in rules. I’m comfortable with these questions that I can’t answer and opposites I can’t resolve. I am comfortable with these paradoxes because they are real and factual, and things in which I can truly believe.
Last year, I was visiting my neighbors back in my home town of Littleton, MA. The youngest of their three children is a little girl who was four at the time. She stomped in the room, arms crossed, and threw herself onto the couch. “What’s with her?” I asked her father. “She put glitter on the all of the toilet seats at the pre-school this morning,” he replied. “Ask her why.” I turned to her, inquiringly. Exasperated, she replied, “I wanted everyone to have sparkly butt cheeks.” And there it was – so obvious, so clear, so honest. Who wouldn’t want everyone to have sparkly butt cheeks? And, how can something that wonderful get a girl into so much trouble?
My point, here, is that sometimes I need to look for the obvious answer. Not overintellectualize, not oversimplify, but just accept things for what they are: complicated, funny, tragic, beautiful, contradictory, and definitely sparkly.
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