When my non-sacramental marriage ended, I moved in with my parents. My bedroom was in one corner of the basement family room. I wanted to go to sleep for about a decade and wake up with a different life.
Three days after I descended upon my parents’ home, Dad turned to me while eating breakfast, and said, “Get dressed. We’re going to Edwardsville.”
“Okay. What’s in Edwardsville?” I asked.
“I’m taking you to get your substitute teaching license.”
“Oh, Dad.” The groan came from the depths, from that awful place where the pain had settled, a pain I was sure would never leave. I did not want to substitute in any classroom. I did not want to teach at all. I wanted to go back to sleep and stay in bed forever. And I didn’t want a bed in the corner of their basement. I wanted my own master bedroom and the life I had expected to live.
“Work is good therapy, Denise.” That one line would become one of those dad-isms that would stay with me forever.
I dragged myself away from the table, showered and dressed. I spent the last six weeks of that school year substituting in classrooms all over Collinsville, Illinois.
The calls came around five in the morning. The phone hung on the wall above my head. I hated that phone.
I had a notepad by the bed on which to write the directions when a call came. Through sleepy fog, I would scratch the names of streets, along with a series of rights and lefts. I would hang up the phone, doubtful that I could find the school. Confident I didn’t want to find the school. Positive I needed to find the school because I was broke.
My husband and I were separated but not divorced. Having no legal obligation to contribute to our financial needs, my husband decided that $40 a month would suffice. And so, I relied on substitute teaching to get us through each month.
I did not want to live like this. I did not want to do anything to support a life I didn’t enjoy. I wanted to sleep. And never wake up.
I was supposed to be the happy mother of three children, living in suburbia, with a husband who was a United Methodist minister.
I was not supposed to be substituting in a kindergarten classroom when my degree was in secondary English education.
On the way to the school, the tears would come. I couldn’t hold them back. Tears and more tears. I arrived at the schools each morning and waited for five minutes to pass so that my face would return to normal after the onslaught of an early morning meltdown.
I would check my face in the mirror. Get rid of the mascara under my eyes. Open the door and step out of the car. And I would head into the school.
It was my daily routine for six weeks.
Work is good therapy. Dad wasn’t the only one who knew it was true. The Church knows it’s true. We are all called to hold the unemployed and the underemployed in our hearts as we pray for work security.
There is a dignity in work. It can get us out of ourselves. It restores hope, gets us dreaming again. It makes us sleep better at night. It gives us a reason to get up. It helps us to pay the bills. It reminds us that we are still alive. It gets us through to another job, a better job. It helps us to pinpoint our strengths.
It can even become a prayer.
I think it is also a kind of ritual. My ritual included submission and tears and agonized laments and acceptance.
And I got stronger.
Miracle of miracles, I found my way back to living. Today, I get up early every morning. I choose to do it – early enough that I can go to daily Mass throughout the summer. And during the school year – early enough that I can drive to a little school out in the middle of rural Missouri and teach.
I love teaching. I love, love, love it.
And I still pray as I drive each morning. There are no tears. But it is still a ritual. And I suppose it is still good therapy, though I don’t really need it to be a kind of therapy anymore. Work is restorative. It really is.
Pray that all may have meaningful employment and that the miracle-of-employment will renew the hearts of so many who have forgotten how to embrace a morning sunrise.
Denise Bossert has four children and is a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Melle, Missouri. She is a Catholic freelance writer for diocesan newspapers, Canticle Magazine, and other Catholic venues. Her blog can be found at catholicbygrace.blogspot.com.