“…we shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for…But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them usually…I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?”
“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don't know. And that's the way of a real tale. Take any one that you're fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don't know. And you don't want them to.”
From The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien
I am a Lord of the Rings nerd. Love the movies, love the books, and I especially love some quotes found in both. I was recently reminded of this quote while reading another book, To Be Told, and I thought that it fit perfectly with the theme of this blog. If we had known how stories in our lives would end, would we want to live them? I have always wished that I could see both (or many) versions and then decide which one I would like to live out. Nevertheless, we live our lives and all we are left with is hindsight. My “had I but known” moment comes from my response to one phone call.
After college I received a long-term substitute position teaching fourth grade in West Virginia. The whole area seemed like a throw-back in time and the school reminded me of my own beloved elementary school. I remember driving down for the interview and there was a feeling of coming home, even though I had never been there before. The first day on the job, when I went to set things up, I think just about everyone in the building stopped by to welcome me to the school. I know there have been a lot of negative things said and horror movies made about the people of West Virginia, but I never met a nicer group of people and I will defend them until my dying day.
|Almost Heaven, West Virginia: view from a friend's front porch|
I knew this job was temporary, but there was a possibility that it could turn into a permanent thing. As the end of the year approached I found that I was put on the RIF (reduction in force) list. My job was to be filled by someone that had seniority over me. I went through some denial and entertained the possibility of working at Sheetz so I could stay, but eventually I accepted the fact that I needed to move back home, for financial reasons.
I cleared my classroom, my apartment, turned in the keys and said goodbye. I moved back to Pennsylvania. It was during this summer, while I was at home, that I received the phone call. It was the HR department of the school. I was told that a first grade position was available and asked if I would like to take it. In my mind I had closed that chapter, which had been very hard for me. I had given back my apartment and moved everything. That particular classroom wasn’t even attached to the school, but in a trailer, and it was first grade; not a grade I was thrilled about. So, I made a snap decision and turned it down. I was sure I’d find another job, but then…Hello recession! I had the hardest time finding a teaching job after that. Eventually, I got a job at a daycare and started a long journey in heartache and a loss of identity. Now, I want to make clear that daycare is very noble work, a very necessary job that does not get the respect or pay it deserves. However, I did not spend 4 years at college to be doing the exact same thing I did in high school. I was lost, I was hurt, and my dreams were ruined. I couldn’t bear to look at teachers’ facebook statuses talking about snow days or summer countdowns. Many friends were blocked during this time. To make matters worse I am a perfectionist, someone that struggles with living in a black and white world, so to me, I had completely failed. Not just in a job, but in life. I went through a period where I was so embarrassed that I hardly went out with friends. I slept a lot and many days it took everything just to get out of bed.
I think the worst part was the loneliness. I have always hated the feeling of being on the outside looking in and that was exactly how I felt. No one seemed to understand what I was going through. People tried to say nice things, but I was dealing with the loss of a dream and I needed to grieve. It seemed everyone was telling me to be thankful for what I had (which only made me feel guilty). I needed to “bloom where God planted me” and my favorite “you need to put on a pair of big-girl-panties” and get over it. Yes, someone said those actual words to me. All of these might have been true, but it wasn’t what I needed to hear at that time.
I just couldn’t accept that I wasn’t a teacher. Many times I would berate myself for turning down that job. I messed up everything and didn’t know how to fix it. What I wanted more than anything was for someone to mourn with me, truly mourn, and tell me that it was alright to be sad and upset. I didn’t want to be fixed. I didn’t even want advice. I wanted someone to care.
People, me included, do not like to let others grieve. We want everyone to be happy and content and sadness just makes us feel uncomfortable. I believe that people just want to be heard and their feelings to be valued, whether they are rational or make any sense.
This past year I was able to teach preschool at the daycare, which was very scary for me. I like older kids and teaching adjectives, multiplication, and The Civil War. I was happy to be teaching again, but it was a difficult year and one of tremendous growth. Now that the year has passed, I am finding just how much those little kids affected me, one of the main ones being Anna’s precious daughter (Anna is not paying me to say that!)
Would I like to be teaching an older grade? Yes, but I have also found that my worth is not determined by what grade I teach or even the job I have. I cannot say for certain that I would go back and say yes to the job in WV. If anything, I wish I would have taken more time in making my decision. Would it have killed me to ask for a day or two to think about it?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else."
If I had taken that job I would have missed spending time with my niece and nephew. I might not have been able to reforge a relationship I thought to be lost with a friend from childhood. I would have missed out on forming new friendships, one of those being with Anna. Through this experience I have found a love of writing and a story within me that excites me the same way teaching does, sometimes more.
Most of all, I wish that I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself, something that I’m still working on. But I am finding ways to break free of absolutes, and I’ve started to see the beauty of a gray-colored world.
Jenn Fry is an aunt, teacher, and dog lover. She dabbles in writing, enjoys scrapbooking, loves a good book, and feels at home in the mountains.
(My family and I have been so blessed by Jenn and her extraordinary talents over the past year. And I am honored, Jenn, by your honesty and willingness to share your journey with us here. Thank you.)