Monday Musings.... I woke up & I was still breathing

When my office got moved to the basement this past year, I was pretty excited. My colleagues, on the other hand, looked at me with great concern as they wished me well and gave me a ton of advice regarding the perils of working in a windowless office hidden away from the constant commotion of staff and students on the second floor. Well, the basement has not only afforded me the luxury of a great space, there has been a ton of unanticipated student and staff activity, where every day literally has been an adventure for me. I don’t need a window for the sun. I've got a door that shows me more about the world than a second floor space ever could!

One thing you should know about me is that I am not a hoarder. Honestly, I am not. But I do tend to have a lot of ‘stuff’ in my office because I just never know when I might need duct tape, some Lego, or a bucket of tennis balls for one of my classes. So there I stood with 24 extremely large Post-it notes that were left over from the day before. I contemplated covering my office walls with the 22” by 22” sheets, but then I spontaneously decided to post two on my door and ask a question. I didn't know if anyone would write me back, and I certainly didn't know what they would say, but I thought: “Why not give it a try?

Every Monday, for 12 weeks, I put up a two Post-it notes with a new question written at the top. What began as a whimsical de-cluttering idea ended up being one of the best educational experiences I have ever had! Not a day went by without something new written on the door. At times I would laugh hysterically. Other times I would feel very sad wishing I knew the author so we could meet and talk. Many, many times it left me very curious about these people who took the time to scribe their inner thoughts.

For me, my door became a gallery of grammar from guests who dared to disclose what was in their head space. There were no rules. The posts were anonymous. Some sheets were filled to the max; others left room to invite additional responses, but in the end were left wanting. Some statements stood alone. Other posts received unsolicited feedback. Strangers talking to strangers. Comments commanding the attention of all those who passed by.

My first question was selfish in intent. I wanted to hear some good news! So, being a big fan of Neil Pasricha and his The Book of Awesome and The 3 A’s of Awesome TedTalk, I asked: “Tell me….something awesome that happened to you today.” The page soon filled with all kinds of great feelings, acts of kindness, friendships, and monumental life events. So in the midst of a dull, dark, and dreary January we found some light in the basement! And we found a way to keep breathing…

You see, while all of the statements were fantastic, there was one that stood out to me, though it may have seemed out of place to the others who wrote on or read the door. But there it was, right in the middle, surrounded by a sea of sociable sentiments: “I woke up & I was still breathing”.

My guess is that whoever wrote that had a hard time imagining a room full of fantastic food and their favourite friends. This person likely knew more about the dark days, was likely forcing themselves to go through the motions of life, hoping that things would get better, but each day was filled with fire and smoke, suffocation and impending surrender. BUT the day they wrote on the door, they woke up and were still breathing. I imagine this person waking before the alarm clock, for what seemed like the fortieth time that night. Tossing and turning, the weight of their world crushing their chest. Lying there staring at the ceiling wondering why? Putting one leg out of the bed, then recoiling it back into the warmth of the covers. Do I go to school, or do I stay in bed? Heavy sigh. No shower. No shaving. Pulling on comfortable clothes from yesterday, grabbing the back pack, with no lunch, and heading out the door, forgetting the toque and mitts. The wind across their face stings, but it pales in comparison to the pain of fear, failure, and frustration. To all of these elements, they have become numb. And so they journeyed to the basement. Stopped and stood at the door they had noticed in their peripheral the day before and grabbed the red marker. And wrote.

I am so glad that you wrote. Though we are still strangers, your message kept you breathing and you know what? It kept me breathing too. The days of awesome are great to have, but the reality is that many people struggle in silence, and hearing about the great things that are happening to others can fuel discouragement even more. You made me think that when things are rough, breathing might be all I have, but that is enough…to keep holding on…at least for today. And that breath is mine. And your breath is yours. No one can take it from us.

How many of you can relate to that person’s post? Even its position on the paper, in the middle of all the jovial jottings, made me think of the people who feel misplaced in a world where everyone else is happy but them. Finding the strength to get up and keep going takes more effort than an Olympic weight lifter exerts, as he hopes to win that gold medal. But the goal for the depressed person is not a trophy, it’s being able to find the reason to breathe, with the glimmer of hope that a change may come, and the weight of the heaviness they carry may subside. Even for a day.

Stay tuned to future posts about the Dialogue with the Door.

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