I’d been living a busy daytime schedule during my recent travels in Australia (see Part 2 of this article), while reverting at night to a state of uncertain health replete with asthmatic breathing and chest congestion. Back in America, I greeted my wife with enthusiasm at the BART (rapid transit) station near our home, having taken it from the airport. We had dinner and watched a movie together. Our reunion made us both happy.
In the middle of the night, however, unable to sleep, I realized to what degree I was still running on empty. Coughing and wheezing, I got up and phoned our health provider’s 24/7 line and made a doctor’s appointment. I realized I needed bed rest, but the sooner antibiotic treatment began, the sooner I’d be able to go back to work. Prep week for our new school year was beginning in two days.
I couldn’t even imagine being well—all I could think of was the next breath!
I had to put all considerations about psychological re-entry, and how to once again enjoy a life in one place with a cyclical weekly schedule, on hold until after physical recovery. My severe bronchial or asthmatic condition might really have developed into pneumonia by that point, I thought. I couldn’t even imagine being well. All I could think of was the next breath!
My doctor sent me to Radiology for a chest X-ray, and we got back the happy news that it wasn’t pneumonia. It was a Tuesday. He prescribed some antibiotics and told me I needed to take sick days the rest of the week. My cough, congestion and low energy hadn’t improved much by Monday, however. I emailed the doctor when the pills were gone, and he prescribed a second round with a different antibiotic. Even this didn’t do the trick. I eventually started going in to work for a couple of hours at a time, but even that was hard.
Barbara, my wife, reminded me that a friend of hers had used a mushroom tea and later some pills, also made from mushrooms, to treat a bronchial condition successfully.
I started brewing and drinking the tea, which we’d purchased a awhile back. A day later, I found the pills at Whole Foods. After a few days of these, my coughing spasms stopped. Two weeks after my return to America, I finally was able to begin taking stock of my life and thinking seriously about emotional and spiritual, as well as physical, re-entry.
Rediscovery of one creative gift
During my first two six-hour workdays of the new school year, my recovery hadn’t fully kicked in yet. All I could do was persevere. Arriving home each evening, I told Barbara they’d felt like 12-hour days.
The third morning, however, I woke from a good night’s sleep to find that for the first time in weeks, I had energy and wasn’t coughing—rebirth! I did several hours of online work and writing before going in to school for my noon to 6:30 p.m. shift. It was during this period that the first of my fears bit the dust! “The Muse” seemed to have been dozing for the weeks before my trip, and I’d actually wondered whether I was still capable of finding a creative vein, other than while travelling.
During my computer time that morning, a diary entry I was writing suddenly “leapt to life” after the first two paragraphs! I transferred it to a new Word document and finished the piece as an essay about a certain development in our marriage that had taken a long time and had required much patience. In writing this piece, I was entering new personal territory. That was what kept creativity alive! The answer to one of my anguished prayers had come.
Things that come in threes
My other internal question was about rediscovering the Magic in my job. The answer began to come almost as soon as I returned to school.
I remembered the most beautiful and sacred thing about my job: at its best, it keeps me young!
After lunch the first day, as I sat on a chair supervising children in our large sandbox area, a steady stream of wide-eyed diminutive people passed by. They ranged from curious 2 year-olds who’d started school during my summer break, to old friends who jumped into my arms for a big hug after two months apart. Without exception, the children looked up at me with the most beautiful expressions, and smiled—completely open! In response, I found my own openness and love arising naturally. I remembered the most beautiful and sacred thing about my job: At its best, it keeps me young!
The third day, after my bronchial recovery had fully kicked in, I was about to start my end-of-day activities, preparing our tier of the school for closing, when the phone rang in the classroom. Another teacher picked it up, but after a moment passed it to me.
The call was from the mother of an elementary school boy. It was the last day to register a child for chorus, she said, and she was calling to see if she could still do so. I told her that had to be done through the school office, which closes at 5 p.m. However, I could hear how much she wanted this. I added that although I didn’t hold out much hope, a chore would take me near the office soon, and I would look in and see if anyone was working late. I took down her phone number, just in case.
There was someone there, it turned out! The staff member thanked me profusely for bringing him the Mom’s number. I could feel how grateful she would be, as well.
Then I went to Room 1, a preschool room, to make sure the back door was locked. Children and teachers vacate Room 1 at 5 p.m., and we all go to a single pick-up area, Room 5. But I found a mom in Room 1 with a very distraught daughter whom she’d just signed out, gathering some things from the daughter’s cubby.
The little girl wanted to take home her Play-Doh project from the afternoon, but the mom didn’t know which one was hers, or whether children were allowed to take them yet. Earlier, I’d seen the teacher allowing another child to take his home, and looking at the projects on the shelf, I spotted one with this little girl’s name on it. The girl was happy as soon as it was in her hands! Of course, her Mom was too, and like the previous mother, she thanked me heartily.
I finished my various hallway-roaming chores and went back up to the Room 5 play yard to help supervise. I prepared some bubble soap for the remaining children and gave out bubble sticks. Two of the new children interacted with me in such a way, as I set them up to blow bubbles, that I felt I’d known them forever. One of them turned out to be the sister of a boy we had had five years before. As she looked at me with her big brown eyes and smile, I felt like part of her family!
An unexpected revelation of real happiness
I suddenly realized that I’d just been given three rapid-fire experiences that showed me exactly how to handle my re-entry! Besides doing meditation and devotional activities, it all boiled down to a pithy statement of Meher Baba, which appears on a popular poster featuring his picture: “Real Happiness Lies in Making Others Happy!” I’d contemplated this saying for many years, and still sometimes wondered: it sounds so good—is it really true?
On this late summer afternoon, I’d been shown, very quickly, that it is. The seal of that truth was the genuine, deep happiness I felt now.
I was so blessed, so well-placed in my job! I looked ahead, imagining the rest of the school year. I’d continue to come home exhausted, no doubt, for working with small children is very demanding. But if I could feel this alive, if I could continue to find ways to serve others, I realized, I will know real happiness!
This revelation had occurred when I’d least expected it, as is the case with many of the best experiential Teachings. Now I was ready to go. Finally, I was completely home!
Read Part 1 of this article series, GOING DOWN UNDER AND COMING BACK UP: Sometimes a guy needs a break!» and Part 2, GOING DOWN UNDER AND COMING BACK UP: The paradox of an ordeal in the midst of great joy [Part 2 of 3]»