"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

20 June 2010

Choosing His Light

I’ve been dragging myself about all the summer thus far, weary and wearier, longing for sleep (except even good sleep doesn’t help), just wanting to feel half-way normal and genuinely rested. I spend a lot of time tired even at my best; I have never had much energy, even when I was young. But this has been extraordinarily severe.

So I took stock the other day and decided I should be grateful that I’m on my feet at all. (My partial stock-taking list is below if you’re really interested. I’m selfish enough to post it, but you needn’t be so masochistic as to pay it any heed.)

I know that everyone is busy, and to many I’m sure my list would look small enough and I seem quite sluggish to find it too much. But combine it all with chronic pain and difficulty sleeping (and exhausted, burning eyes), and for me and the level of energy I am endowed with . . . . well, it is too much and I begin to feel hopelessly overwhelmed.

I’ve just finished Paul Mariani’s biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poor man was responsible for grading thousands of exams every year in classical languages for university entrance, on top of his teaching. He was always exhausted; of course, he may have been ill with Crohn’s disease, unknown in his day – that, combined with typhoid, probably caused his death at 44. But what struck me in the biography (so much of which makes remarkable use of Hopkins’ own words) was this sense of never-ending exhaustion. A holiday – a genuine holiday of no work at his schoolmaster’s tasks – would revive him remarkably, but within a week or two of return to exams and classes he would be worn down again.

And this weariness and overwhelming work kept him from the writing he loved; he seems to have had far more unfinished projects and ideas for projects in his 44 years than the hundreds that languish in my own drawers and the corners of my mind with over a decade more to concoct them. Of course, he was a genius, and his genius seemed to be slowly wasted away in grading schoolboys’ Latin translations.

He complained of this at times to dear friends. But they and all others who knew him spoke of him invariably as a man who loved life, who laughed, who gave generously and kindly of his time and his mind, who lifted the spirits of those around him. His poetry, of course, explains why: even in the very darkest of the Terrible Sonnets, he cannot waver in his knowledge of God’s love for him; he cannot waver from his obedience no matter how onerous and purposeless it might seem. And he keeps coming back, in his yearly meditations and in his sermons and in his poetry, to this: it is not I who name myself and choose my work, it is God.

Some say of Hopkins – certainly his friend Bridges did, and I’ve read contemporary critics who agree – that he was indeed wasted by the Jesuits, his genius destroyed in make-work, his life itself cut short by their not understanding who and what he was. How much more he could have given us, they say, had he lived in honored ease and into old age. Perhaps. But the poems that mean the most to us were wrought of great weariness of body and soul, out of despair that arose directly from his circumstances. Would some larger body of work created in an easier life carry as much value for us today, would he speak to us as he does if he had never known despair and weariness and yet clung to his Lord in faith and hope?

Well, he is my hero, all the more so now that I know yet more of his life. I pray to struggle on with the burning eyes and the weariness and the chronic pain and, yes, the all-too-often despair, to struggle on, as Mother Teresa prayed, with “a hearty Yes to God and a big smile for all.” If life seems hard to me, how much harder for such as these and for so many, many others – and surely I can find the strength in His strength for the simple yes and the heartfelt smile in the midst of my own such lesser trials. I fall so short: I am part of a broken humanity in a broken world and I demand to name myself. Yet His name for me, the story He has written for me, is enough, if I find the faith to live that truth and not merely know it. "Come be My light," Mother Teresa heard Jesus call to her; I long to desire that call, to desire to be His reflected light in the darkness of this world, no matter what of light or dark may be mine.


(for those who might care: what taking stock reminded me of)

* I haven’t had a break from work since last August: Fall Break and Christmas break I spent developing the online course of the second semester of freshman composition; Spring Break I spent developing the online course of Intro to Lit.

* I taught the online comp course in the spring, as an overload above my four regular courses – the first time I’d ever taught online. The learning curve and the time investment in discussions and feedback was far more time- and energy-intensive than just a normal overload, even though the class number was small. And I was involved in intense committee work and department changes which took both time and emotional energy. (Same committee work in the fall; I don’t remember much else from that semester except that it was harried, very harried.)

* Spring semester I became very ill from an infected tooth; lost two weeks of teaching that had to be made up for and didn’t feel physically recovered for a month or more.

* My daddy went into hospice care in March. I reworked all my classes to complete them before finals week so we could leave as early as possible to visit with him.

* We drove to Texas and back, gone for only a little over a week – exhausting physically and emotionally. I worked every day during that time on finishing up the development of the Intro to Lit, and got home the day before the course actually began. I’ve been working on it hours a day every day since, with two more weeks to go.

* I’m also reading new texts for preparation of one completely new course, one nearly completely new course, and one old course with almost completely new books, all of which spin in the mind constantly. I’ve created the tentative schedule for one of these (the two sections of our new freshman comp I’ll be teaching in my 5-course load). I’ve exchanged innumerable emails over departmental business because of the changes made last spring.

* I ought to be hemming our curtains and doing some legal research and editing a colleague’s dissertation. Because I’m not, these weigh on the mind and create the weariness of guilt. And I’m obligated to revise the online comp course for the fall semester and I wonder if I will get so much as one full week of not working before the new round – 5 classes! – begins again in August. After all, July is almost here.


GrumpyTeacher1 said...

Beth, I'm so sorry for all you've been through this year. Hang in there.

alaiyo said...

Oh, Scott, you know it's just life. Sometimes it becomes such that I need to whine, I guess! Thanks for caring. Your family really is quite wonderful!

Elisa said...

I know I have told you before, my dear Dr. Impson, but it seems appropriate to repeat this now:

Your light in the dark times of my life was the very light of Jesus' truth. It brought me back to life again and it taught me to hope again. And most importantly, it was no momentary light. It comes back to me again and again as I face other valleys and I remember your words.

Who knows what trials of your own you were facing at the time, yet you set them aside to accept God's call and be His light in my life! I can never thank you enough!

Much Love,

alaiyo said...

You are most kind, Elisa, and I am grateful to have been able to reflect the Lord's light into your life a bit.

Thanks so much for having lunch with me when you were in town -- I loved talking with you again! Let me know what happens as the future unfolds. Love you, dear heart!

William Luse said...

You worry me sometimes.

alaiyo said...

No need to worry, Bill -- as long as I want to learn from such as Hopkins and Mother Teresa, I'll make it! Not as well as they did, I fear, no matter how long I live, but at least I *desire* to live that well. I've been so grateful that MT's letters were published; they have been a light in the darkness often for me, helping me to understand how one can *feel* so bad and yet know joy . . . and Hopkins' poetry has been a godsend for years.