Teaching · Thoughts about Life and Faith

Watermelon Handles

Can you visualize it? If God dreamt up pockets in kangaroos and the weird fin-leg-things on amoebae, surely he would have thought of making watermelons grow handles.

I can’t help it: every time I pass that line in my quote book, laughter bubbles out of me.

Because while I normally don’t think God makes mistakes, I tend to agree that handle-less watermelons was an oversight on His part!

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Think about it: when they’re a good size, they are awkward and heavy to carry. While heavy, they also are somewhat fragile. And you can’t really carry anything else at the same time.

But there’s no way around it . . . we’ve got to get it from the store to the cookout somehow. So we cradle it like a baby and go. 

I think pain and discomfort are like watermelons: 

We wish God had put handles on them to make them easier to carry. 

We wish they were easier to carry, but sorrow and pain are not easy to bear, and there’s no way around them except through.

This is a lesson I’ve been learning the last few years. It’s difficult not to run away from pain and to face it instead. But it is oh-so-necessary for our health and healing.  

Sometimes, depending on the particular grief, the pain fills enough of our emotional arms that we really can’t carry anything else besides it. There’s nothing we can do about it; we just have to walk with it until slowly, ever so slowly, we start to experience healing, and the pain lessens.

Another thing I’ve been learning about grief: it comes in all different sizes and shapes. What might seem small to someone could be rather significant to another. Actually, what we think ought to be small often does not feel small at all when we stop and look our pain in the eyes. We shouldn’t be invalidating our own pain, though. That just sweeps it under the rug and leaves a bigger mess for later.

The end of a relationship – of any kind – hurts. I’ve experienced lots of types of relationship endings: romantic breakups, death, and the ends of friendships that still perplex me.

Disappointment is another one that seems small, but usually isn’t.

A change of any sort in life also inevitably brings grief. It is sorrow at the loss of a stage of life that will never exist again. There can be joy that accompanies a change too, of course, if it includes a new job, a new home, a new anything. But that change means that you can never return to that stage of life ever again. And, rightly, you experience sorrow as you transition.

Sometimes, there are things outside of your control that cause sadness too.

For me, as we’ve returned to school after Christmas break, I’ve been grieving the fact that I am still teaching school online instead of in person. In the grand scheme of things, it’s tempting to brush off the pain. But, man, does it hurt!

And it makes staying engaged in work ever so much harder! Confession: though I normally make a concerted effort to be fully present to my students, it’s getting harder with every passing day to leave my phone in a drawer so that my mind is fully engaged with them during office hours, or so that I’m fully focused on grading and lesson planning when I’m not live with students. Never have I ever opened social media as many times a day as I have in the past week!

It’s not all bad, of course. My students are valiant and resilient. They still make me laugh – and also want to bang my head against the wall – by turns, and the majority of them have adapted amazingly well to online school.

But I miss them.

How can I miss them when I’ve never even taught them in person?

I don’t know. But I do.

I think it’s because, having taught for five years before this, I know how it’s “supposed” to be and feel.

Even the best substitute is, after all, still a substitute for the real deal.

Just ask any student: even the most amazing sub is not as good as having your regular teacher there.

Same goes for zoom vs in-person classes.

Do I miss every aspect of teaching in person – like having to solve disputes and tend to hurt pre-adolescent feelings after lunch instead of teaching science?

Not really, except . . . I do miss it a little. It’s an immense privilege to walk with kids through the beginning awkwardness of adolescence. They grow up so much every year, but fifth grade is an especially big year.

And also, can I say that it’s JUST SO POOPY to have a student put their head down on their desk and start crying at the end of the day on a Friday and not be able to put my arm around them, look them in the eyes, and communicate what a treasure they are. (Not that that’s what happened to me yesterday or anything. 😬 )

I mostly miss joy.

Neurologically speaking, joy is experienced in person, in relationships. It’s just not the same over Zoom, no matter how you slice it. It’s not that joy is completely absent, but it’s muted. I don’t experience joy in the same way during a lesson I’m teaching via video call as compared to the joy of being physically present with my students in my classroom. I’m not sure how to explain, but you all have been in quarantine enough in the past nine months to understand what I’m saying, right? Like I said earlier, a substitute is a substitute.

So I’m grieving that loss this week. I miss “regular” school. I know it wasn’t perfect, but that doesn’t change my longing to once again be with my students and coworkers every school day.

I also know I’m not the only one with grief and loss from this crazy pandemic season. My aim here is not to burden you with my own, but to write it out, and, in turn, give you the freedom to feel yours.

Sometimes, facing the pain can be scary. Depending on what it is, it can feel like an endless chasm inside of your soul that you can’t look at.

I promise you, though, having lived through a more piercing grief than missing school, that no pain is bottomless.

Or perhaps your response is more:

because goodness knows that we have enough on our plates without taking the time to deal with negative emotions like sadness, pain, and anger.

It’s worth taking the time to let ourselves feel those, though. Not just worth it; necessary for our long-term well-being.

If you are brave enough to take the time to plunge into the depths, you’ll find that “underneath are the everlasting arms” (to quote an old hymn).

You may not share the same faith that I do, but what I have experienced, in various different sorrows, is that there is One who holds us all in the palm of his hand, and cradles us close to His heart – and His hand is the one thing big enough to hold us and all of our aching grief. He is the one who makes the healing possible.

That does remind me: there is one good thing in this watermelon metaphor. When we finally have the courage to stop and cut into it, that opens the way for the sweetness of healing to come out too. It may take awhile, but it will come.

I’m not sure how long it will hurt to be missing doing my job the way that I love and missing seeing the people that I love. But I do know it’s not infinite.

So I’ll carry this watermelon of grief that is mine to bear and open it up to get at the goodness.

May you, too, have the courage to carry your handle-less watermelons – and cut into them when you’re ready to find the sweet mystery of healing.

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