”My mind hums with poetry and madness”: The Toughest Semester Ever

My mind hums with poetry and madness. Virginia Woolf

I turned in my final paper for the semester on Friday, July 9th and waited for that sigh of relief. You know, the one every student experiences at the end of each term. It never came.

All I could think about now was the coming week. Semester 2 would start in 3 days. And I would be flat, burnt out like the Lancer-made donuts around Auburn, before I could even start. Worse, I was scheduled to preach at Captivate Presbyterian on July 18th on Psalm 100-101. It was the toughest semester I had ever been through. And yet when I finished it, there was no rest, no relief and no end in sight. Had it truly ended? That’s what I thought as I shoveled bits of rice and eel into my mouth.

I don’t even know how I got to this point. Without a day off, and one extension after another, the last 3 months have just become a blur. I feel like I’ve done nothing and yet everything. I remember moving houses at the end of last year. I remember leaving a job I fairly enjoyed. I remember leaving my church to become an intern at another. I remember making friends in the unlikeliest places. At the same time, I’ve never taken so many extensions. I’ve never had ongoing medications for my health. And I’ve never felt so empty in my life. There’s never seemed to be so many fires to put out. With so many things out of my control, I couldn’t help but ask myself — Was I a failed student? Worse, was I…a failed human being?

Throughout life, in all of our words, and feelings and actions, we seem to be measuring ourselves up against some ideal. We’ve got some vague sense that we’re not who we should be. What is it though? Does this ideal exist somewhere in society? Is it in my mind? Or is it made by me? Am I just making myself up as I go along? Beyond our successes and failures, the worst thing to fail at is as a human being. Yet… we can’t seem to agree on what that is. And maybe that’s why I felt such despair. The uncertainty and the failure around my life made me ask myself if all these things really reflected who I was and what I was like as a human being. If we’re ultimately responsible for our lives then the failure to live up to your constructed identity is yours, and yours alone.

These thoughts ran through my head. They ran through them when I was faced with my grades. Or when I was forced to acknowledge that I was never going to meet that deadline. And they ran through my head just as it dropped down on my soft pillow to sleep. It’s too bad these thoughts were nothing like my pillow. I remember thinking, “my mind hums with poetry and madness.” Words and images. Feelings and sounds. Without any narrative, any story, what are they? My head, no my life, just becomes full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. So I’ve come to realize this semester’s the toughest one I’ve ever had. Not because of anything I did or didn’t do. But because of who I was. It’s made me have to come face to face with myself. And when you see the shadow of who you truly are, that can be terrifying. Sometimes it’s a monster in the mirror. This semester was the toughest one not because of successes or failures, but because through it all, I had to ask the question, “did I fail… as a human being?”

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