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Hope From the Heart

Author: Dee Crainie
Year: Hope

The sun blazed through the classroom window, a stream of summer light, speckled with minute dust particles. I watched them swirl and drift, the teacher’s voice droning in the background of my consciousness. Shifting in my seat, I yawned in an effort to drag some much-needed oxygen into my weary, lethargic body. I was 12 years old. Bright, but a daydreamer.

'Please Mrs. Connor, can I go to the bathroom?'. She nodded her consent.

As the door clicked shut behind me, I relaxed in the cool and quiet of the corridor. Leaning on the dusty book cabinets, sagging with dog-eared textbooks and novels, I gazed at the hills in the distance. It was an hour until three o’clock. Then I could finally race home to our tiny semi-detached with its well-kept garden and spotless interior. My mammy, Alice, would be waiting for me in the bright kitchen with its yellow and white gingham curtains. There would be a snack of tea and toast, after which I would take off my uniform, summon my beloved Collie, Tammy, and race into the hills above the mining village of Croy. My hills. Building dens from discarded wood and branches, searching for birds’ nests, dangling my legs over the edge of the quarry (these were the days prior to health and safety and helicopter parents!). Freedom, peace, relaxation, away from the constraints, conformity, and expectations of the world. In my memory, those days were always bathed in sunshine. A sacred space in time.

Thirty or more years have passed, and I find myself standing in the classroom once again. The teacher’s voice drones as the children shift and fidget in their seats. She turns and gazes through the window at the hills beyond. That same longing, stirring within.

'Ok class, I can see we’re all a bit hot and bothered just now. Why don’t we head outside for some fresh air?'

A cheer erupts as chairs screech on the tile floor and the children assemble in a line.

I have taught for almost eighteen years now and I have loved every minute of it. But as time has passed, I have begun, once again, to gaze at those hills. That familiar sense of longing for the freedom of the open air and a four-legged friend at my side has once again begun to sparkle and fizz within me. The feeling is there. It has never left me. That little girl who spent her days dreaming of the freedom of the open air.

When I look in the mirror now, the reflection has changed somewhat, to say the least. I am naturally tall and lean but years of a sedentary lifestyle, three pregnancies and the stress of the daily grind have taken their toll. I have been a carer for my elderly parents, a mother to my two sons, a wife and homemaker for my husband and family. A teacher, wearing many hats – parent, social worker, psychologist, therapist and much, much more. And in those moments when I have felt the pressures of life bearing down on me as we all do, my mind has taken back to those simpler times. The hills, the open space. My wee Tammy dog. That sacred space, preserved by memory.

It has gradually dawned on me that these are the things that make me tick. The pursuits that ignite my passions. My authentic self. I came across a quote the other day – “do something you enjoy, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. I overheard my almost 14-year-old son, Danny, recently council a peer who planned to be an engineer as “it’s a decent, stable job”. ‘But you’re 14,’ Danny replied. ‘You should be chasing the dream. Do something that you really want to do.’ Such wisdom and insight, I thought, in one so young! Later on, I returned to this thought. What’s to stop anyone from “chasing the dream”, as Danny so eloquently expressed? The familiar cloud of doubt and pessimism drifted over me. Money, I thought, bills, stability. But why can’t we try? Throw caution to the wind, put what safety measures we can in place and just – go for it?

I submitted my application for a career break from teaching at 9pm last night. I felt light. Renewed. This morning, I put on my walking boots and headed into the hills, my borrowed doggy, Violet, by my side. My hills. I breathed free. If you looked at my google search of late, you would find the following: older dogs for rehoming, spaniel pups, dog walker insurance, motivational quotes. A mish mash of dreams, aspirations, gradual realisation, and truths.

As I stand on the brow of the hill, the chill wind whipping my face, I see two schools in the distance – my current place of work, and the primary school I attended as a child. I can even see the very window where I stood as a little girl, longing to be outside in nature. My parents are both gone now. I am approaching midlife and all that comes with it. Fear of the unknown, self-doubt, the need for security and comfort. Yet also, a distinct boldness and, most importantly, self-awareness. Perhaps it is time to put those fears to the side and live as though we’re starting out in life. Instead of just ending up. Hope springs eternal.