RISE

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Sean Dietrich

By SEAN DIETRICH

I am on the beach alone. I am watching the sun lift itself high above the horizon, driving the dark away. The blue-purple morning becomes a sudden electric orange.

I remove my phone and start texting someone.

Long ago, my mother used to force me to watch the sunrise whenever her fretful little boy was feeling anxious. Because a sunup is one of those things that beats away anxiety, even if only for a few merciful minutes. All mothers know this.

I needed all the help I could get in the anxiety department. I was a worrying child. I was one of those annoying kids who always needed his Mama. And Mama was always there to ease his worries, touch his hair or place her mouth upon his little belly and blow flatulence noises.

When I was nine years old my mother gave me a dog named Goldie. She selected this particular high-spirited animal because our family was going through hard times and I developed a stomach ulcer, and she knew her fearful son needed a friend.

I would never again sleep in a bed that was not covered in hair.

Then there was the time I was taking a math class in college, and not doing so hot. Mama helped me there, too. I was an adult, and I was borderline failing the course. All I did was worry about passing that dumb class.

My mother was the one who finally told me, “Whenever you start to worry about college, Sean, think about it like this: you’re paying for your own college. That makes you the professor’s employer.”

Mama knew exactly what to say to ease my anxiety. I looked at my teacher in a new light after that. And it worked. I quit worrying about everything. That semester, after not worrying one iota about math class, do you know what happened? That’s right. I got an F.

But my point is it was a fun F. And I’d rather earn a fun F than an ulcer-causing A.

As it happens, I took that same class again several years later. This time I was even more nervous than before. But when the final exam came, if you can believe it, after months of hard work and preparation, I got another F.

So I took the class a third time. This time, I was exponentially more anxious than I’d ever been in my life. I was 30 this time. Things get harder when you’re older, and I needed this confernal class to earn my degree.

But this time I had a secret tool: I was married. My brainiac wife tutored me in math every night. I learned theorems, theories, formulas and terms no sane person would possibly care about. “Hypotenuse” is only one example.

I took the exam for the third and final time and got a high C. I felt like I had earned my PhD in astrophysical engineering.

When I came strutting out of that campus building, my wife was seated on the hood of my truck, waiting. When she saw the smile, she threw her arms around me and I swung her around in circles until I nearly herniated my L4, L5 and S1.

To this day, whenever I think about that stupid math class it makes me remember that I have a long history of somehow “passing” through the most feared moments of my life without dying.

I’ve always known this was true on some level. I’ve always known the human spirit is resilient. After all, I’ve been through a lot of hard times in my life, and I’ve still got a pulse. Mostly.

But if I’m being honest, sometimes when life really gets lousy, I lose hope and I worry too much. It’s just how I was made. I freely admit it. I’m not a fighter, I’m not scrappy. I’m more of a Chili Cheese Fritos guy.

After all we’re not kids anymore. At this age, we know too much about life to be idiotically optimistic. We have a lot to worry about. Our joints hurt, we have a mortgage, our loved ones die, human bodies fail, the world spins out of control, and Mama isn’t around  to buy us a doggie.

Sometimes you can be so keenly aware of the bad in life that it will make your cardiac tissue bleed. Sometimes you can get so hopeless that you don’t even want to hope anymore because what’s the point?

But then, by some fluke, you wake up early one morning. You walk outside with a hot mug in your hand, and you watch the sunrise. And something about this moment reminds you about someone special.

So you whip out your phone and you text her through blurred vision. Your mother immediately texts three one-syllable words back.

Then you wipe your eyes and write this.

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