Fifteen years ago I sat in Mr. Greher's American History classroom. I was a naive, selfish 8th grade girl. My best friend, Lindsey, sat behind me and to the right. She and I, we were pretty convinced we'd conquer the world. And truthfully, there was no one else I wanted to conquer the world beside. Fifteen years ago, I didn't know anything of war, other than the black and white photos bracing the text books that always took up too much space in my locker. Fifteen years ago, I listened to my mom share about how she remembers, vividly, where she was when JFK was assassinated. How sad for you, I remember thinking. How sad for you. Fifteen years ago, moments before a tower was struck with selfishness and evil and a warped thought process of freedom and standing up for one's belief, I sat entirely untouched by pain, devastation, or sorrow.
And then a T.V. screen was bombarded with plumes of black smoke and I had to choke back cries of terror because I wasn't even entirely sure why I was called to cry in the first place.
Fifteen years ago I become one person in a generation of many who would be defined by a historical event that I would eventually teach to developing third grade minds in an inner city, public school.
The sun is shining today. There isn't one single cloud in the sky and I find myself trying to name the blue in a new and poetic way. The sun is shining. It's warm and encompassing and I should be exuberant with joy.
Something lurks in the corners, though.
My mom can always tell when it's going to rain. Her knee aches in a way that feels differently from the chronic pain she experiences from bone pushing up against bone. She will walk into the kitchen and whisper, "rain's coming," because she must baby the joint that gets her from place to place differently than how she normally would.
Depression and anxiety are similar to a joint devoid of cartilage, in that way. My stomach and thought patterns seem to know when the sun just won't brighten the haziness of a heart. The very pit of my gut, he knows when extended ours of sleep just won't make me jump out of bed ready for the day, but rather burrow deeper into the mattress and attempt to further cocoon my body with a quilted blanket.
I have a good life. I don't want to, at any point here, allow anyone to think I am suggesting things are bad or wrong or hopeless. They are not.
But I suffer from depression. And I exist, nearly twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, in a perpetual state of panic. No, I do not know why.
But my gut - you know, the one who reminds me no amount of sleep will ever be enough? He has been especially unkept lately. I'll be going about my day and will be overcome with this foreboding feeling that I should be dreading something. And so I mentally pace. I pace and pace and pace - up and down the hallways of a mind that never shuts off to begin with - trying to define what it is I'm supposed to be dreading. And I often can't put my finger on it.
So then I get anxious. And I revolve around this anxiety. Hoping like hell I will figure out what it is I'm supposed to be dreading.
It would seem, when anxiety lets her hair all the way down, she makes it nearly impossible for celebration to make a home within me.
I remember the first time I did a reading with third graders on 9/11. I passed out the paper, explaining we were going to be reading a non-fiction selection.
"Who can remind me what non-fiction reading is?"
Thin, small hands shot into the air, but their voices couldn't be contained or confined to the waiting of being called on.
"It's a true event!"
I looked down at the paper, of the semi-cartoon drawing, in black and white, of towers so tall you'd have to crane your neck to look up at them, with clouds of smoke rolling out from the inside.
"Yes. An event that actually happened."
We moved on, reading the selection, and then the questions came.
"How old were you when this happened, Miss Steph?'
And I become my mom - recalling where I was, who I was beside.. I even remember wearing neon yellow flip flops on "the day the world stopped turning." I recall biting the inside of my cheek so I wouldn't cry in front of the always-taking-everything-in eyes looking back at me.
That's so sad. That is so sad that you were alive when this happened, Miss Steph.
I remembered my words to my own mom, sharing a piece of her history with me. How sad for you.
When will a generation be untouched by national and international tragedy? On sidewalks chipping their concrete, where cigarette butts and an occasional needle are readily available to be seen, I fear the tragedies those tender eyes will come to remember at 29 will be far scarier than any I can imagine in this present moment.
In a world, in a country, that often seems more selfish and apt to take than anything else, seeking out celebration feels harder and harder.
But it's there.
Can we stop putting our hope in other humans? Hope for the country, hope for the future, hope for tomorrow - why are we trusting flesh to carry the weight of these things? A woman and a man, humans with blood coursing through their veins, stand on their respective podiums and begin slow-clapped chants for how they will change the face of this country and we become absolutely VENOMOUS in our attempts to defend one or the other. We spew putrid words at each other for disagreeing on issues existing in a world that is FALLEN TO BEGIN WITH.
Our flesh will never solve the sin of a world awaiting its Liberator.
So I will try to hope, above all.
I will hope that when my once third graders are 29, they will have peace to write about in a downtown coffee shop and not the anniversary of an event that changed the face of their adolescence forever.
I will hope that depression reaches less and less people. That anxiety will become something less mocked and misunderstood, I will hope for those under the duress of anxiety to be celebrated - even when they are coiled so tight, they are sure to rust within their paranoia.
I will hope this nation welcomes with warmth and celebrates the diversity within her - because there just isn't room for the concept of better than or more deserving or but what about me? that's unfair when we have so damn much to learn from each other's differences. I will hope bigotry, racism, and shoving people within boxes of definition will come screeching to a euphoric halt. I will hope, above all, that we will all learn a little bit more about humility; I will hope that we come to understand no human, no matter their credentials or experience, or net worth, will ever be the resolution to this groaning world.
I will hope. Because tomorrow isn't promised. And we are not denied pain on this side of Heaven. Ed Welch said, "it is a myth that faith is always smiling."
It is a myth. But there is hope.