At the age of 42, I became a brand-new parent again to a baby girl. My boys are 11 and 15. She has been a joy to us all. But there are days when I look around (or listen) and find myself wondering what kind of world she will inherit.
However, I refuse to say that the world is falling apart, that yesterday was better and purer and safer. Even with the specter of a Trump presidency (or Clinton depending on your political stance); even with ISIS beheading prisoners in front of cameras; even with Syria and much of the Middle East in peril; even with the murder rate in Chicago showing no signs of healing; even in a society where my boys are far more likely to be harassed and shot by police simply because of the shade of their skin. Even with all of that.
The list above is the easy stuff to see – to worry about. And we do, each in our own way. And then we tell ourselves (at least those of us not in the line of “fire”) that at least we don’t have it that bad. That it could be worse. That we should be thankful for what we have. The God will not give us more than we can handle. That if we work hard enough and believe that we can achieve whatever we want to achieve. But those are all lies…meaningless Hallmarkian language that is, in the end, hollow.
It may come as a surprise to those who do not know me well, but for the past three months I have been seeking treatment for PTSD. I feel better than I have in decades. I am not saying this for sympathy, for congratulations. To be honest, I am saying it for myself. Out of pure selfishness. As I have reprocessed the trauma built up over the past 20 years, I have felt not only a weight lifted (Lord, what a cliché) but also a sense of confident peace. Yes, confident peace.
If you know me, you know that I am an avid St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball fan. By the end of last season, coming off 100 wins, I could barely listen or watch an entire game. I would get so stressed, so worked up. I told myself that if I turned off the game, then maybe things would go better. If I tuned into a game, and things went awry, I blamed myself and cursed myself for turning it on. The past few seasons during the playoffs I only watched portions of games for fear that I was affecting the outcome. That I was jinxing them. I would not even speak confidently about a game. I would tell me wife, that yes, they are going to lose. Of course they are.
I understand that this all seems trivial; but it was symptomatic of something much bigger. I had come to not only expect the worse to happen, but I had also come to believe that any action, verbal or physical that expressed any sort of hope in a positive outcome, would actually increase the likely hood that the worst would happen. And I justified it by embracing the idea that I actually had the ability to jinx myself. I spent the last few years increasingly guarding my thoughts, my words, and my actions. I spent the last few years living in fear of the worst happening.
This past January I sat in my house, alone, and sobbed. This was not the first time, but it was happening with greater regularity. Eventually, my wife, my mother, and my pastor were all integral in enabling me to recognize that not only ought I seek assistance, but that it was the right and natural thing to do. There is such a stigma over all of this. Depression. Anxiety. PTSD. I am a tenured Associate Professor in a wonderful marriage with three healthy children. I should not be unhappy. That is the narrative I told myself. Suck it up and get it together I told myself.
If I could express just how freeing it is to begin to let that go (and it is a process, not a switch), I would do so right here. If I could tell you what it is like to begin to not be living in a state of fear again, I would. But that is a much longer story. It is a story full of trauma and loss, and of joy and love.
This blog will touch upon some of that journey – that story. It will also be a place for me to write on what is dear to my heart and my mind. Selfishly, it will be a place wherein I will exercise my writing skills (I go to the gym for my body, I will come here for my heart and mind). Maybe something will happen locally, or around the world, and I will chime in. Maybe I will see a movie that I just am compelled to review. Maybe I will discover/experience something in the classroom that I want to share.
I will also, from time to time, upload some of my own creative writing for you to read and, if you feel so inclined, comment on. Look for chapter one of my novel, Grace, later this summer. I may have ten readers. I may have 50. I may have only two. But whoever stumbles upon this, know that I will strive above all to be honest. To be truthful. Of course, recall that Ursula K. LeGuin reminds us (and here I paraphrase) that a writer says in words what cannot be said in words, and he does so with words.
However, this is in no way a confessional. A laundry list of secrets. A sharing of my family’s business. (And if you leave a comment, please respect my privacy and leave out details.) It is, as I have already said, a place in which to share what is dear to my heart and mind. And the two are not separate but related in a complex and intimate way.
I may have no idea what kind of world my baby girl will inherit, but, to be honest, I don’t really care. What I mean is that I have no control over that. So much of what happens is beyond my control; how I respond is what I can control. What I can control is to be there each day. To pick her up when she cries. To sit with her and my boys and my wife and be present. To respond with strength not fear. And to root for my Cardinals stress-free, knowing that nothing I do or say has anything to do with what happens on the field. Jinx be damned.