Monday morning. Alarm rings. I sit up on the edge of my bed. My first thought, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to work today.”
Monday was our first day of the school year. A day typically filled with excitement, optimism, and eagerness to greet hundreds of students coming through the door. Students whose emotions fill the spectrum as they cross the threshold: joy, fear, sadness, dread, anticipation, uncertainty, confidence—they bring it all in the building. This week my heart was consumed with family and friends in Houston and along the Texas Gulf Coast on the beginning of an arduous and harrowing journey. A short three hours from my home, people I hold dear were losing everything to Hurricane Harvey.
My mind spinning and lost, I knew I had to dig deep and put one foot in front of the other. We’ve all been there. Wondering how it will be possible to engage. In these moments, I’ve discovered the only way to press forward is to stay present. Stay 10,000% in the moment at hand. It’s easier said than done; I won’t lie about that. Here’s the thing though, the more you practice, the better you get. But where do you start?
Start with joy. Mine the hour at hand for the gifts within it. Focus on the joy and you bring yourself back to life.
It feels impossible at first. It can feel uncomfortable to see beauty when you feel heartbroken. It can feel insensitive to feel joy when others are suffering. If we examine that discomfort, we find that behind it there’s this idea that things have to be one or the other. But here’s the truth. To feel empathy, suffering, heartache doesn’t mean you don’t feel any bliss. And to embrace joy, doesn’t mean you ignore the painful feelings or turn away from them. Turning away from them can do more harm than good.
It took my own personal tragedy to fully understand that joy and pain can coexist at the same time, and that’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s vital.
Take the hundreds of kids coming in the doors Monday for example. They need the joy no matter where they are at. If they are blissful, they deserve joy from others to keep them up. If they are experiencing anxiety they deserve joy to lift them up. It doesn’t have to be a fake it till you make it act. It’s important to stay genuine and honor yourself and others. It can start as simple as a smile. A genuine smile brings the giver and receiver to the present moment together and celebrates the connection and community they share.
When we are in troubling times, we all need to be lifted up. The most beautiful thing about life is that we can experience the full spectrum of emotion. It’s what makes us alive and passionate creatures who have empathy and come together in community.
It’s not about being an optimist or a pessimist. It’s about embracing all of life’s beautiful messiness.
So I went to work. I greeted the kids with smiles, warmth, laughter, and hugs. I was there for them since I couldn’t be there for my family and friends. And then they were there for me. Their joy lifted me back up. I didn’t forget my loved ones three hours away. I honored the loved ones right here with me.
I was reminded life is happening all around us, even when it feels like it’s not.
I always end with a song. This one is a beautiful reminder that we have permission to see the joy around us even in the midst of tragedy. Sometimes we have to push ourselves there.
So smile, though your heart is breaking… I will.