I believe in discomfort. I don’t mean that I believe in flogging myself or in hyocritical shows of asceticism. Rather, I believe in doing things that make me focus on the moment, that help me appreciate being alive. Maybe it comes from how I was brought up. My family’s idea of relaxation was camping and 10-mile hikes.
Now, as a high school German and language arts teacher, each August I have the same conversation with my students when I tell them I ride my bicycle a whole mile to school almost every morning. “You mean you ride to school in the snow?” one asks incredulously.
“Yes,” I answer.
Another pipes in, “Now I know you don’t ride in the rain!”
“I often do,” I respond.
Some students react with shocked expressions. At least one always answers with something like, “Mr. Moffat, man, you be trippin’.”
My students just cannot understand my penchant for doing something uncomfortable, especially when there is no monitary reward or noteriety involved. This fact used to bother me. Maybe I felt like it was some violation of my egalitarian ideals, like it kept me from connecting with them.
My perspective changed, however, a few months ago when I was hospitalized for esophagitis and multiple stomach ulcers. As I lay there in my bed, hooked up to the IV tube and heart monitor, I stared out the window at the dreary weather and wanted to be out there riding my bike in the cool, wet breeze. After being released, I kept a recovery journal, which includes this haiku I wrote about riding to school at 6:30 one morning:
Cycling through morning
Mist, November wind, dead leaves
Never so alive
In re-reading my journal, I rediscovered that discomfort is actually a way of enjoying the simple fact of being alive, of enjoying the thrill of experience. Sometimes that thrill is hanging on for dear life’s sake as you mountain bike down a rocky slope. Sometimes that thrill is reading a novel or watching a film that casts the world in a whole new light. Sometimes that thrill is putting a handful of words together in a way that nobody ever has before. Sometimes that thrill is dreaming in a foreign language. Often times that thrill is your own children gleefully welcoming you home or a warm kiss from your spouse.
It doesn’t bother me any more that my students don’t get it when I do uncomfortable things. After all, isn’t it my job as a teacher to cause discomfort? To have them learn new things? To help them build a more sophisticated sense of the world and their place in it? So, I am going to keep riding my bicycle to school, listening to the Beatles or Wilco or John Coltrane on my iPod. Sometime I ought to take off my headphones and chant to the rhythm of my legs, “Viva discomfort! Viva discomfort! Viva discomfort!”