40 in the present moment is not a bad deal

Published 9:42 am Monday, April 8, 2013

Column: Paths to Peace, by Jeremy Corey-Gruenes

Friday was my 40th birthday. Typing that wasn’t as painful as I thought it might be. Forty is, after all, a big one.

I was asked a number of times if I was going have a big party to mark the occasion, but that’s not really my style. To be honest, I prefer low-key birthdays, to have them come and go without much notice. Consequently, I’ve been accused of selfishly denying others an excuse to party, of being no fun, a sourpuss, but the truth is I just don’t like being the center of attention. I’m generally a pretty happy, positive person.

Jeremy Corey-Gruenes

Jeremy Corey-Gruenes

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A couple months ago, however, I slipped into a bit of a funk. I’m not sure exactly why, but everything was bugging me, and I felt pretty down. I kept this mostly to myself, choosing to burden only my wife with my negativity (I’m great that way), but my annoyances were broad and wide, and it didn’t help that the big 4-0 was approaching.

A teaching mentor had warned me years ago about this.

“Teaching’s a great profession,” he said, “but It can be all-consuming, and life is short. You might wake up one day, shocked you’re 40, miserable, and have no clue what to do about it.”

Not me, I said. I’ll know when to make a change.

But there I was, approaching that day, and struggling to be positive about a lot of things.

After a few weeks of this darkness, I was up late one night, watching a Minnesota Timberwolves game on the West Coast. The Los Angeles Lakers were pounding the Wolves. Win or lose, the Wolves are my team, but this year has been a huge disappointment. Beset with an insane number of injuries to key players — some nights they’ve had only eight healthy guys available — they haven’t won many games. Still, I watch.

So it was one of those nights, and the undermanned, tired T-Wolves were hurting. After a timeout I notice the camera catching a sad-eyed Alexi Shved (the promising, young Russian guard) moping and slowly walking back onto the court.

Just then teammate Ricky Rubio enters the picture, gives Shved a little rub on the head, and says, “Alexi, change this face. Be happy. Enjoy it.”

The announcers commented on it, replayed it, complimenting Rubio’s sunny disposition.

But know this: Ricky Rubio is no Pollyanna. He hates losing. In fact, after playing an incredible game more recently against the Lakers, he was near tears, almost speechless in the locker room when asked about the officials missing a clear foul on a last-second shot he’d taken that could have forced overtime. He hates losing.

But he might also be enlightened. And when the Buddha appears in the world, who am I to ignore him simply because he’s a 22-year-old Spanish basketball player with a scruffy beard?

When Ricky said, “change this face,” he was really saying pay attention to the true reality of the present moment. It’s wonderful.

Yes, we’re losing (again), but you’re being paid a ridiculous amount of money to play a game you love, in front of fans who love to watch you, in a league you’ve always dreamed of playing in. You have the opportunity to grow and become better simply by losing yourself in this moment and playing your best. You’re living the dream. Recognize your good fortune.

It’s just what I needed to hear.

My wife is not into sports, and when I shared my Rubio revelation with her later that week, she rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t get it, but I’m glad it’s working for you.”

I have a family I love and who loves me back, even when I’m trapped in a self-absorbed depressive funk. I work with great kids every day, where I’m surrounded by amazing adults who are incredibly committed to these kids. As a language arts teacher, I get to guide these young people while they read, discuss and write about exciting ideas that truly matter in our lives.

Recently my English 11 students have been exploring the “the social contract” theme through literature and other media containing conflicts between natural law and human law. What freedoms, for example, are we willing to curtail or regulate for the sake of social order and a healthy society? What freedoms do we value too much to perhaps ever compromise? It’s a fun exploration.

I’m encouraging my students to attend a free showing of the documentary film “Living for 32” at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday because it relates so well to our studies.

“Living for 32” is the story of Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech University mass shootings. The film revisits the massacre and explores the need for gun control reform. The showing is sponsored by the Albert Lea Human Rights Commission and Paths to Peace. Admission is free, and a discussion will follow.

So I’m 40, and I digress sometimes. I also insert shameless plugs into my columns for community events I care about. I’m OK with it because a part of my present happiness is knowing that young people today are capable of exploring controversial issues like gun control in a civil, respectful way, and I’m glad to be a part of that. I encourage you to be as well.


Jeremy Corey-Gruenes is a high school teacher In Albert Lea where he lives with his wife and two young daughters. You can reach him at jcorey2@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @jemcorey.