In today’s media-driven universe, one of the applications that gives me mixed feelings is “Check-in” (i.e. (Name) has checked in at (Place) — with (Fill in names of friends)) On the one hand, part of me thinks it’s fun to imagine my brother taking his kids to lunch at a certain restaurant, or to Google the new cool hip places where people are eating and socializing in San Francisco or some other city that is not where I live right now. The other part of me thinks that if I really cared to know where you are at this exact moment in time, I’d either be there with you or you can tell me about it later.
In my current position, I have two scheduled check-ins every week: one with my assigned “mentor,” who is a fellow colleague, and one with the principal. And sometimes for fun I check in with the counselor because we work together and I like to talk to her, period. Amazingly, even when I have three different “check-ins” in the same week, the conversations are always a little bit different because by the time I talk to the next checker-inner, something else has occurred in my day or my thinking process that has shaped further what I wanted to share.
And tonight, the President gave his annual State of the Union speech, which Presidents get to do once a year. One big one-way check-in with the American people and the government.
Obviously, this word matters in my life.
I remember vividly the day when the grief counselors came to the high school where I was teaching seven years ago. A sophomore boy had committed suicide the night before, and we as a staff were grappling with that reality after hearing the news from his mom. I remember hearing somebody say the words and not being able to process what that meant. And I sat there in a meeting for about five minutes before I thought I was going to be physically sick. I remember running to an empty classroom, calling my mom, and crying hysterically. I remember repeating, “He’s just a boy. He’s just a little boy…” I just could not comprehend that this person who had been reading aloud his portfolio reflection to our 4th period English class the day before was not ever going to be in my class again, was not ever going to fall in love, was not ever going to know what his future might have been. So the grief counselors came and told us, essentially, that for that day, there were only two questions we needed to continue to ask ourselves: 1) How am I feeling? and 2) What do I need right now? (Be it food, water, a hug, a good cry, sleep, or whatever was the honest answer.) In other words, check in. With yourself. Right now. Because how you feel is important, and you should honor that. And how you feel right now will change in the next minute or five minutes or 24 hours or few days, but keep checking in. So I did that. And when I feel particularly anxious or stressed, I do it then too. I try hard to remember to do it when I’m happy, as well, to acknowledge the feelings of joy that are also part of life.
I don’t think, in our everyday existence, that we do enough checking in. We have lots of to-dos on our daily lists and lots of people to respond to and lots of things left undone, and when people ask us how we’re doing, we breeze by with a “I’m doing good/well” and move on to the next thing. Yet given a little bit more time and a little bit more focused attention that allows for listening, it’s quite liberating to check-in out loud and tell someone how you’re really doing — if for no other reason than to let it go. Now it’s not realistic, of course, to weep on the shoulder of every Tom, Dick, or Harry who says hello. But it is a necessary part of being good to oneself to check-in and ask, “How’s it going?” “It” being life, relationships, work, play, love, goals, the pet, the house, the whatever. Maybe if we gave ourselves more space to check in, then we wouldn’t pick up — or continue to carry — so much of that extra “trash.” How we feel each day, in everything we do, is valuable; more importantly, it’s okay.**
For now, and hopefully for a long while, this space is just one of my checking-in places. To make sure that I acknowledge my own feelings and values and questions. To make sure that I give my thoughts a space to breathe… and if I’m lucky, come to new realizations that maybe were there all along.
**There are typically a myriad of events and small moments that conspire over the period of a day or a few days that lead me to write. Today, in particular, one large part of my inspiration was reading a blog post this morning by Aimee Anaya Everett, a world-class Olympic lifter: http://www.cathletics.com/blog/blog.php?blogID=1692