Going away to college is not the same as living through a pandemic, but in these days that are filled with no small feelings, with hefty, complicated topics and tempers so high it seems the world is one giant eggshell, I’ve been thinking a lot about my freshman year as a college student.
I was sad those first several months at school. I called home crying a lot. I visited home — and left crying — a lot. It is a testament to my parents that they never said, “Maybe college isn’t for you,” because if they had, I know I would have quit. I know it was hard for them to witness how miserable I was, and now, being a parent myself, I am all too familiar with the desire to fix a problem for my children.
Somehow — thanks to a kind and hilarious therapist, a handful of equally kind and hilarious friends, and a combination of perseverance, faith, and exhaustion — I stuck it out. And while it took me a tad longer, I eventually graduated from college.
The college memory I keep returning to during these days of the pandemic happened on a spring morning moments after I woke up. I tossed off my covers, climbed down the ladder of my loft, looked around my dorm room, and made the most basic and also joyful observation about myself: I am not all sad.
It is this thought that I’m turning over as we enter our fourth season of pandemic living: I am sad, but I am not all sad.
Actually, it was a poem about the importance of the pumpkin vine that stirred this memory. “The Hustling Pumpkin Vine” by Uncle Mose is catchy and rhythmic. Reciting it, it’s hard not to tap your feet along and smile at its upbeat message: “The weeds may grow around it but the pumpkin vine don’t stop, / it shows it’s there for business an’ it climbs right on top / An’ if it strikes a big stone fence or a ditch that may be wide, / It jes’ lines out ‘n strings the pumpkins on the other side.”
Here is a poem that could be considered trite, but I think it’s about looking at the natural world in order to look within ourselves. We consider what we’re made of so we can better take our place in the world. I think that means having the willingness to attend to sadness and look out for joy. I think it is this grappling that can be the catalyst for change and growth.
These days there are lots of reasons to go (and stay) outside. Take a walk through a pumpkin patch. Sit outdoors at a cafe. Bring your sadness for the world with you, but also look out for joy: in the vines, in the (darn) tenacity of the yellow jackets, in the lullaby of the crickets, bidding farewell to the summer’s warmth, and calling us deeper into autumn, where we must attend carefully — and joyfully — to the dark.
Take a walk this week and find a lesson about nature that can help you this season. Write a poem that points out the sadness and the joy you are holding onto.
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I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. You do not need to be a teacher to have instant admiration for her honesty, vulnerability, and true dedication to her students. She uses her own personal storytelling as the tool to teach one of the greatest stories of our time creating an instant connection to her students as well as to you the reader. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.
– Celena Roldan