Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 04 2012

Finding acceptance: a lot harder than acing a math test.

My yoga teacher spent a lot of time talking about acceptance today-I should accept my body as it is today, take it as far into the pose as I can and not judge myself. I should accept the past because it won’t change. I have particular habits of thinking and acting and being that make it hard for me to accept things-the point of yoga for me today was to not anticipate what I’ve done in the past, but act in the moment as best that I can. And then, of course, accept where I end up as my best effort in the moment.

Type A, bike racing, Teach for America teachers, who go on to work with brilliant math educators don’t practice acceptance too often. I don’t think “well, I got half of that assignment done” or “my paper is good enough” or “well most of my kids are passing” or “it doesn’t matter that I didn’t win that race.” My life is a constant practice of non-acceptance of wherever I am and an attempt to be better. And, to be fair, that has gotten me a long ways at least if you are looking at my resume. But when I fail, when I’m 10 pounds over race weight, when I don’t finish my homework or my research doesn’t shed light like I’d hoped, I’m left with some habits that are more miserable than productive. The habits of judging myself, feeling insecure, eating too much sugar, or being grumpy at my loved ones.

Of course, any of my readers who were not scared off by the sudden switch from math education to my friend’s death, will wonder when I’m going to bring up Ioana. Today was perhaps the first time that I realized what it would mean to accept her death. I certainly haven’t-I still have this feeling of shock when I imagine my boyfriend in my office telling me “Ioana’s dead” and breaking down crying. I can still feel that moment of being sick to my stomach and curled over. I still feel really guilty about the time I didn’t spend with her. But perhaps I can at least write about what it might mean to accept her loss.

I’d have to accept that whether or not it was fate that she stepped on that rock that day, it was what happened and that nothing can change that. I’ll have to accept that her life was 24 years long even though I always imagined her running marathons when she was 50. (expectations-almost as rough as non-acceptance.) I’ll have to accept that I hung out with her exactly as many times as I did. I’ll have to accept that sometimes she asked me to go to the climbing gym and I declined because I don’t really like the climbing gym. I’ll have to accept that the last time I saw her, when she stopped by my office to say hello randomly, I didn’t give her a hug or tell her I missed her, or demand that we see each other more often like we did the first year we were friends. I’ll have to accept that she invited my boyfriend and I to go climbing with her and we didn’t.

These are the easier things to accept. The other ones are deep secrets that I don’t tell anyone about very often. Ioana was very beautiful, very fit, very happily married and very smart. Sometimes I felt insecure around her. I hated it when she spoke about the miniscule amounts of fat on her body negatively because we were the same height and I weighed 25 pounds more than she did. (to be fair, I’m not overweight, but have very big leg muscles and she was tiny and ran constantly) I judged her for criticizing her body around me. It wasn’t her fault. She thought I was great-it was my own opinion of my body that was the problem. I have to accept that my own insecurities about myself affected my friendship with her.

If I could have done just as much as I can, with school, with my body, with my friends, and then accept where I ended up it wouldn’t have been so hard to be around someone who seemingly did everything. She ran marathons and then took Real Analysis tests. She cooked yogurt from scratch. She planned a wedding on the rim of the Grand Canyon. I have to accept that sometimes my reaction to her energy and success was judging myself instead of being excited for her. I’m not even sure that Ioana knew I was thinking these things- I don’t think that I was ever cold to her. I have to accept that I did think these things and forgive myself.

I have to accept I didn’t appreciate her enough because I was insecure and caught up in my own struggle to find balance as a graduate student. I was confused enough about priorities and balance that being around Ioana just seemed to add to habit of criticizing myself- that I should be able to do everything well. I hope that in the future she’ll just inspire me.

I have to accept that I’m learning the lesson to look for the best in my friends and ignore their minor faults after she is gone. Sometimes the most beautiful things about someone are also hard to deal with at times. I have to accept that I could have called her more, visited her more, and told her how much she meant to me more frequently. And I didn’t, and I can’t take that back. I have to accept that whatever the decisions I made about my friendship with her were the best decisions I could make in that moment, because I can’t reconstruct what I was thinking when I decided who and what to prioritize in my life in the last year.

I know Teach for America taught me to never be satisfied with where my students were. I think my parents accidentally taught me that anything but straight A’s was not good enough(they do love me a lot so I think it was my fault that I thought this was based on my grades). Bike racing taught me that having a normal amount of body fat just meant I was going to be slow on the hills. None of these lessons were very helpful when I tried to be friends with someone who outshone most people at math, athletics, and intensity of love life. It was too easy to be reminded that I wasn’t perfect and couldn’t do everything when in the presence of someone so accomplished. Ioana-I’m sorry I’m learning these lessons after you are gone. I cherish all the time we DID spend together. Your wedding. Studying together. The swimming pool. The math building. I still look for you in those places. This acceptance thing is going to be really, really hard. Thank god they played the “no regrets” song at her funeral. It was her favorite, and I like to think that she wouldn’t regret her love affair with the Canyon which took her life, because I have to accept that a wonderful, passionate, kind woman who loved me is gone.

4 Responses

  1. Wess

    :) Your readers aren’t gone! Just speechless.

  2. Andrew

    There is more to life than achievement and success. Being happy doesn’t take anything away from your love of your friend:
    (much more on YouTube and in print)

    There is also a interesting article in Harper’s (Aug. 2011) called “The limits of remembrance.” It’s talking more about war, but you can see parallels to the individual.


  3. Andrew: great article- I completely agree with the message. Living that message is harder than agreeing with it :) I agree, there is more to life than achievement and success-but also, acting that way is harder than agreeing. I think I’m making progress.

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Learning more about life than math…

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