Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.
I am lecturing today, the first day of term. It is one of those lectures I’d rather not do but, being that this is a psychology course, is sort of required. I am laying the foundation, laying out the theory, talking Freud, Skinner, Maslow, and May. It is a tiny class, just about thirty, very intimate, very relaxed. We chat, we laugh, they ask questions, lots of questions, totally irrelevant, completely off topic, my favorite kind. We discuss the differences between behavioral and psychodynamic perspectives, boring stuff like that, but we have a good time with fun examples and interesting tangents.
I like school. I’ve always liked school. Even when I was a little girl, some of my favorite things in all the world were new pointy pencils and a fresh box of Crayolas, the feel and smell of brand new textbooks, the beautiful look of the teacher’s name scrawled on the board in absolute perfect cursive, those tablets with the dotted lines in the middle of two solids. I even liked homework. Sometimes I would give myself homework if none were assigned. Just for fun.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.
Teachers were pretty and smart and smelled good. Teachers were nice and friendly and wore pink sweaters with tiny buttons. They called you “Sweetie” and “Dear” and never got upset. If they did, they would just say, “Now, class.” Then you would just get an explanation about how passing notes could sometimes hurt feelings and make people feel left out or sad and how it was distracting when a person was trying to teach numbers or when another person was trying to learn those numbers and how it would be a much better idea to just wait until recess and talk to your friends then. Only really you couldn’t do that because the boys and girls always played separate and never talked to each other. For boys and girls to actually talk to each other on the playground meant that you liked each other and if you did, well, then you had to pass notes anyway. But, still, the teacher would give the talk and that would be the end of it. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be a teacher.
I also knew that I would write books, although I never pursued this and never knew any authors personally, so I didn’t know what they smelled like or what they wore or how they talked or if they were nice or mean. But I did know that it was fun to make stories and play with words. I decided to stick with short fiction and journal entries as my skills in poetry failed to impress my second grade teacher. After that sad attempt, I fashioned a homemade novel on the adventures of The Pickle Family. My mother showed her friends with great enthusiasm. That was all the incentive I needed to entertain the thought of a career in writing.
Except for a brief pre-med sidetrack, I have pretty much followed my chosen path and stayed true to goal. I am teaching. I am writing. I am doing each most every day. But, sadly, I am feeling lately that something is missing. I am in the right place for me, yes, and I am heading in a good direction, but I am sort of at a standstill. Which leads me to question myself. Am I really in the right place for me? Am I really headed in a good direction? And couldn’t I do more? I am not feeling that I am giving all that is inside me to give. I am not feeling that I am contributing all that I was put here to contribute. I have more. I know this. I want to use it, but I am not sure how. I am losing my spark. I am losing faith in my ability to head toward some larger goal. I look at my life and ask, “Is this it?” I don’t believe it is. There is more. I can feel that there is more inside of me to give. I don’t know how to give it. It is frustrating to the point that I am losing that spark.
So I am in class today, learning names and majors and reasons for being late, talking Piaget and Seligman, Rogers and Wundt. I am smiling and friendly and smelling as good as I can possibly smell, wearing a navy cardigan with tiny blue buttons. I am a teacher, a teacher who is trying really hard to keep the light, but is sadly losing her spark. At the end of class, a guy strolls up. I am prepared for a speech on why he can’t make it to lecture next week or how his job will make him ten minutes late to every class or that he bought the wrong book and could I show him again which text we will be using. He does none of this. He hands me a ripped out sheet of paper from a spiral notebook. Scribbled on it in pen is the quote above. “Here. You might need this.” Then he leaves. That’s it. No one is in the room. Everyone has left. I read the note.
He was right. I do need it. But how would he possibly know?
The note makes me realize that while I think I am a teacher and a writer I am really a birthday candle. When you have cake, you never take the match and light every candle. You light one candle. Then you take that one candle and light the others. Once a candle is lit, it can help the first spread the flame to others who sit and wait in darkness. It can help to light others who then can help to light others. And in the end there is the most beautiful display of warmth and love and all things good just because that first candle refused to let its light go out.
I read the words again and realized that if I let my flame go out I have nothing to light the others who sit and wait in darkness. I have nothing to spread the warmth, the love. I know now that I need to nurture that spark and keep that spark because, ultimately, the spark is not mine. It is not here for me. It is here for those I will help to find their own light in the hopes that they will help others to find theirs.