Remembering trouble

It’s the middle of the semester at university and in the courses I teach that means it is time for the mid-semester test.

I always have a problem with setting these tests (and exams too). The question I always have is, have I made the test too hard? Or too easy?

When I first began teaching the course I had to re-learn all of the concepts and it was easy for me to understand how the students could have trouble with their learning. I felt like I had just learned the content and I was almost on a par with the students in my understanding.

Now, much further down the line, I have been teaching the same course, three times a year, for eight years. The information is scored into my brain and underlined many times. I have little anecdotes for almost every section of the course. I have thought widely about the subject information. I could almost find it boring to teach if it weren’t that each intake of students is so interesting and fun to get to know.

I am very grateful to have the content scored so deeply in my brain because that has made this year’s teaching so much easier. When you are actually teaching in your sleep, because you are just that tired, it is handy to be teaching a course that you can teach in your sleep! But knowing the course content that well makes it difficult to remember how hard it is to learn the information in the first place.

I find myself thinking, ‘How can they not understand this? It’s so simple!’ and I need to pull myself up and remind myself how it used to feel. If I can put myself in the place of the first time student then I can hopefully make the concepts easier to grasp in the way that I teach. And at the very least I can be understanding rather than disparaging, and make the process more enjoyable for that scared student stepping out into a new phase of life.

As I pondered remembering how I felt as a first-time university student I began to remember how I used to feel in other aspects of my life too.

There was a time when I was so unfit that my daily exercise was a ten minute walk along the flat street near my house. I walked five minutes out, and five minutes back. That was how I started my ‘get fit’ campaign many years ago. It is hard to remember how that felt, as I now, quite happily, walk six kilometres from our house to the beach and back, taking the long way home to make sure the walk lasts at least an hour, and I try to do that walk at least four times a week.

But if someone told me, way back at the beginning, that I had to walk an hour, four times a week to be fit, then I would not have even tried. I would have believed that there was no possibility of me being able to do that much exercise and that I was doomed to be unfit and unhealthy forever.

The ten minute walk was a necessary stepping stone to my health and fitness and I’m happy that it’s where I started because I can now encourage others that ten minutes a day is a good place to start. That ten minutes a day is worthwhile exercise. That they never know where it might lead.

I remember how it felt to be poor. We lived several years on government payments and whatever we could scrounge by working little jobs on the weekends. DH and I were both university students and were raising two children, and while we had enough for bread and butter, there was not much money for jam. We knew miraculous provision (feel free to ask me – I’ll tell you some stories!) and we never went without food or were unable to pay for our heating bills, but we did not have any money for extras.

I am grateful for that time in our lives because now, when we have enough and more than enough to live on, it could be easy to drop into thinking that the poor are just bad with money or foolish in their choices. You hear politicians say stupid things like, ‘if they don’t have enough to live on they should cash in an investment’ and realise that they have either never known, or cannot remember, what it feels like to know that the $10 in your purse is the only money that you have. And to wonder whether you should spend it on milk or keep it in case there is an emergency. (An emergency you can solve with $10 is rare, I know).

I remember that at one stage I remember I really wanted a tea cosy for my tea pot. I couldn’t afford to buy one and I was quite depressed about it. It wasn’t that a tea cosy was my reason for living (now I can afford one, I haven’t even thought about buying one), it was that all of our money was tied up in necessary expenses, and there wasn’t any room for any pleasure spending. That is a hard way to live and much of our population live that way.

It is good to have know what it was like, to remember, and to therefore give generously to those who are in the same situation now.

Another struggle that I have had in the past that I am very grateful for now is the struggle with depression. I was not ever depressed enough to end up in hospital or on anti-depressants, though I believe I came close, but I was definitely struggling with post-natal depression after the birth of each of my children. Even now, when I am tired, I need to keep a close watch on my thought patterns to make sure that I don’t spiral down into the pit of depression once again.

I am grateful for the experience because it really helps me to understand mental illness in others. I can understand why someone could feel responsibility for a natural disaster or war happening on the other side of the world because I know that when I was unwell, I felt much responsibility for things that were not my fault (and also things that were not actually a problem). I can understand how people can take three hours to summon up the courage and energy to get out of bed and take a shower because I know just how hard it was for me to choose which clothes to put on in the morning. It can be incredibly hard to just go through the motions and do the normal life things. I understand that mental illness does not devalue you as a person but just means that you are ill, and that it is not something that you can just ‘talk yourself out of’.

My life is absolutely fabulous at the moment. I am fit and healthy, able to work hard and earn money. I have a beautiful family whom I love and who are easy to care for. I have a job (well, three jobs, but who is counting) that I love and my beautiful house is a delight to look after. I live in paradise and I have very good friends. I even have a cat that loves to sit with me on the couch while I am writing (which for me is an added pleasure). I am incredibly blessed, and incredibly grateful!

But I never want to lose touch with the struggles that I have had on the way here.

The good book talks of ‘the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’

I never want to lose touch with my trouble but to keep remembering, so that I can use the comfort I have received to comfort those around me.

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