Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Yearly Crisis, Amplified

Every summer, I go through a period of "existential crisis." Not a big, scary crisis as in "life has no meaning," but a baby one, as in "I no longer have a job to do and feel lost." I'm sure it's a common feeling for many teachers, although most might not choose the term "existential crisis."

Again, I defer to Wikipedia if you're unfamiliar with the phrase "existential crisis." While the wikis have their shortcomings, it is a good source of group think and common knowledge. Let's examine the first line of the entry:

An existential crisis is a stage of development at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life: whether his or her life has any meaning, purpose or value.

I'm not very fond of the word "crisis." It sounds too much like "emergency," as in, if you don't resolve this crisis, bad sh*t is going to happen. Soon.  Guess what... Bad sh*t has already happened.

I doubt there is any way to be truly prepared for a loved one's death, especially a spouse. Aimee and I chose not to include a unity candle lighting at our wedding because we both felt the idea of two people becoming one was a bit old-fashioned. Here's what I learned after nearly eleven years of marriage: you will become pretty damned entwined with your partner. If not exactly "one" flesh, the you learn the other's moves before he/she makes them. Losing Aimee has caused a major rift in my thinking about myself and my place in the world--in addition to the pain and grief of her death.

All relationships change over time, regardless of how intimate the relationship. But most changes are gradual, even if at times marked with periods of sudden, but small shifts. A death is a sudden, violent change. Think a football thrown to a receiver--the ball follows a perfect, arcing path to its target, and then a defensive player reaches up to tip the ball, sending it into an awkward, end-over-end spin out of bounds. Or think of what might happen to a planet should another object knock it from its orbit.

I'm out of my orbit. I'm the football tumbling out of bounds. Sure, I have plenty of meaning in my life--right now my boys, especially Owen and Max, need me to be emotionally present. Elliot's needs are fairly simple (although ever-present). Fortunately, he's going to day care during the summer to keep a consistent schedule. The other guys really need me right now.

And that is good--it is as it should be.

But my life, my meaning, is more than father to those boys. I've spent so long as Aimee's friend, lover, partner, and yes, caretaker, that I have to reexamine myself. And by "have to" I mean I have no choice. The change has come, regardless of my wishes, and here I am.

So this year's existential angst (a little more accurate than crisis) brings a good measure of "who am I, now?" with an eye toward the future and "what will my life be like a year from now?"

Baby steps, Aaron. Baby steps.


Martin Rose said...

This is a subject that is often central in my daily life -- purpose and meaning and how I conduct myself. I hold a very separate sphere from my spouse -- and it has everything to do with the reality that as a natural course of existence, we come to an end. If we're lucky, we get a chance to say goodbye. And it's often not talked about when it's an abrupt, unplanned end -- it makes people uncomfortable and for most, sudden traumatic death is something that just "happens to the other person." It's such events that make it hard for me to relate to other people. I'm the other person. It breaks my heart to know that you're the other person now, too.

I live everyday like it's my last. Everything is organized. No one in my life doesn't know how I feel about them already. Even my language has changed: I don't use words like "sorry" because I believe regret is for people who think they're going to get another chance, as though life is a dress rehearsal. I conduct myself with the expectation that my spouse will die before I will. Morbid? Maybe. I just anticipate reality.

We don't always get chances.

If you need to reach out, I'm at Mr.MartinRose@gmail[dot]com. Even if you just want someone to read something of yours. I read your blog even if I don't always comment. In general, there is very little I can say that will improve your life. At most, I can bear witness.

Anonymous said...

Aaron, As a teacher I understand what you mean about suddenly no job and what you'll do with yourself. This is the first year I don't have a summer job lined up and the reality of that hit me today as I thought what am I going to do to keep myself busy. I am sure for yourself that has amplified this summer with Aimee's death. I cannot imagine how has increased the awareness even more so. I'm sure. Take care of yourself and the boys and do what you need to do to get through this.
Sherrie Wright

Robin said...

I enjoy reading your posts. I can relate to this one well. I always looked forward to the end of a school year and planned way more than we could possibly squeeze into a summer. Now I'm a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having all three kids 24/7. One day at a time...

K.C. Shaw said...

I feel the same way at the end of the spring semester. Then the summer semester starts and things rev up again for my department. The academic calendar is strange and unsettling in some ways. During the richest part of the year, where days are long and warm and food is plentiful, everyone connected with school has their job (whether as teacher or student) just stop.

I hope your existential crisis eases quickly. Maybe a summer project you can do with the boys would help?

Katey said...

Blargh. In general. I think everyone needs those existential angst moments once a year (I like "angst" much better, now you mention it), but my favorite part is always the one where I end up saying, "Ah, screw it." And just keep going.

Here's to the baby steps, man.