September always feels like the start of a new year to me, much more so than Jan. 1 ever does. It must be the perennial student in me. I can’t even resist the piles of discounted school supplies that fill every store at the end of summer. I buy at least a few neon-colored, spiral-bound notebooks and one box of perfectly pointed Crayola crayons every fall. Something about it settles my soul and makes me feel like I’ve got a blank slate and the possibility of a rainbow within reach.
As my youngest heads to high school this year, I look back and wonder what it is about September that has such a pull on me. I’ll be the first to tell you that if I had to go back in time to any part of my life, it would not be to high school or before. I’d go back to college in a heartbeat. That is where I came into my own, where I felt air under my wings and an opening up of everything that seemed closed before. Memories of books devoured, discussions had, even of the all-nighters required to finish a paper or read one more Shakespeare play bring a rush of happiness. I think it has to do with the accomplishment of taking on a difficult task and seeing it through. I like a challenge, although these days it takes all my effort to try to learn and retain something new. I expect myself—mentally and physically—to be like my 20-something self, but she’s so far in my rearview mirror I can’t even see a faint glimmer. And I think that’s precisely what has freed me to finally let go and let God.
Case in point: I arrived early to a particularly difficult exercise class recently. Over the course of 75 minutes, I fell over in balancing poses, cramped up in leg lifts and generally bobbled around, laughing at myself as I did, and cracking wise with the teacher—a far cry from the way I would have reacted all those years ago, when the drive to do things perfectly often overrode the joy of simply doing. But age flips that outlook on its head.
During the class, as I made a comment about my inability to do something, my teacher said, “Why would you want to do this perfectly? What would you learn from that? I want you to struggle. I want you to fail.” Ah, that’s the part we don’t always remember, no matter what our age. We want to get better at things but we don’t always want to struggle to get there. We want to find a place of ease—where we reach contentment, acceptance—but we fool ourselves into thinking the way to ease is easy. It’s anything but. Ease doesn’t mean no suffering, no mistakes, no bobbling. It means experiencing all those things and still maintaining inner peace, still learning and growing.
While it would seem that reaching that difficult apex would be something that happens on the outside—healthy food, lots of exercise, stimulating books—it really has to happen from the inside out. It’s only when we stop doing that we figure out what we’re really meant to do, who we’re meant to be. And that requires the thing that looks the easiest from outside but is by far the hardest part of this journey: sitting in silence, listening for the still, small voice that urges us forward to uncover our true self and live up to the potential God planted in each one of us.
A blank slate and a rainbow of options will become a muddled mess if we don’t ground ourselves in truth and beauty and love, and all of those things require us to stop moving and spinning and achieving, and to simply be. Be in God’s presence. Be in our own company. Be here (wherever here is) now.
Mary DeTurris Poust, author of six books on Catholic spirituality, is director of communications for the Diocese of Albany. Visit her at www.NotStrictlySpiritual.com