Some years ago, I experienced a particularly trying time in my life. The work of a teacher requires a lot of time and care on its own, but I was managing an important after-school program that required significant attention, and when I finally had an opportunity to get away for the Christmas holiday, my father was hospitalized.
The crisis came about as we were in Italy visiting relatives. My father became bloated and congested after Christmas dinner, and we called the medics. It was congestive heart failure, and once he was stabilized, he developed pneumonia. He remained in the hospital for seven weeks.
During that time, my mother flew over to take my place, insisting that I should not miss work. Deeply conflicted about this, I acquiesced, but I remained in contact by phone, as there were many details to coordinate. I even had to journey back for a week when my father took a turn for the worse.
When I returned from that second trip, a colleague stopped by my classroom to ask the news and to see how I was managing.
Now, I share a trait with many members of my extended family: that of internalizing. I am often consciously unaware of things that are consuming me and possibly doing harm to my state of mind and even my health. So when this colleague asked me how I could possibly keep up with my volume of work while coping with the stress of my father’s illness, I said I felt fine. And I was telling the truth as far as I knew.
I have always worn a jacket and tie to school, and the day of this conversation in my classroom was no exception. I needed to take my jacket off for a moment, however, since I was preparing to reach to some high shelves of my classroom closet to retrieve some materials for class. At that moment, my colleague gasped.
I asked what was the matter. “The lining of your jacket!” she said. “Look at it!”
For the first time, I noticed that the acetate lining was worn and fringed in many places. It looked horrible, in fact. Since all of that was concealed whenever I wore the jacket, no one would have ever suspected.
Then my friend asked what other deterioration may have escaped people’s notice–as well as my own.
I did not know what she meant, so she explained her suspicion that perhaps my work and my father’s illness might have a similar effect on me internally.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it. I did acknowledge, however, that I should give it some thought and talk to loved ones who could offer me support.
By spring, I am happy to report, my father was home from Italy. And I brought my jacket to the tailor to have the lining replaced. I’m even wearing it right now as I write this.
I found it interesting that life presented me with a ready and apt metaphor, so I felt I should include it in a sonnet I hope you find meaningful.
Wear and Tear
My shoes have more than scuff marks for their wear,
But gouges, too, from doors whose bottoms rake
Across the toes to mar yet one more pair–
The marks my muddled daily hurries make.
My ties cast arrant strands snagged by the pace
Of dashes from my meetings as I leave
My jackets, threadbare, each in some small place;
My wristwatch frays the edge of each shirt sleeve.
So apt this state of outward disarray
That cruelly a disordered soul reveals
The damaged way of every awkward day,
That nightly something in my slumber heals.
The world will score us as we make our course;
The marks dissolve when we rejoin our source.