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 9 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 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.
Eddy - September 2, 2021 6:28 am
We love Y’all, too!
Dina Harper - September 2, 2021 6:57 am
You don’t know how your articles move me. I laugh. I cry.
And sometimes, I wonder how you can express the way I feel when you don’t even know me. God Bless you and you wife. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.
Brenda - September 3, 2021 12:27 am
Ditto! Sean is like all of us and shares his laughter and tears so we are not alone. A special gift.
Melanie Johnston Levy - September 2, 2021 7:18 am
Dear sean…I am a mom…I even have a son named Sean…you make my heart happy…hopeful…and full of hope…I HOPE to meet you AND Jamie one day….love, Mimi Mel
Faye Hutt - September 2, 2021 8:10 am
Sean, now I know the secret. You give…..HOPE…..
Debbie Mosier - September 2, 2021 9:11 am
Love, love, love this! I, too, am an over thinker and worrier. Neither does any good, but it’s just in my nature. And my Mama is always there to put me back on the right track. She did that just today. But her health is failing fast, and one day sooner than I’d like to think of, she won’t be there to tell me to dry my tears and stop being foolish and to get my head back “on straight”. And I don’t know what I’ll do, besides be lost. So enjoy your Mom while she’s here, just as I will, and remember “There’s not enough room in your heart for worry and faith.” I choose faith!
Have a great holiday weekend!
Karen Snyder - September 2, 2021 10:45 am
❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ This is an A+, Sean!
Jan - September 2, 2021 11:01 am
Just what I needed this morning! Thank you!
Tammy S. - September 2, 2021 11:26 am
Bill Harris - September 2, 2021 11:31 am
Thank you Sean.
Molly - September 2, 2021 11:31 am
Sean, your words have magic in them! They weave a beautiful picture and tell a beautiful story. We are all anxious. Some more than others. We all need sunrises! Thank you for sharing yours with us today!!
Karen - September 2, 2021 11:35 am
Moms can be so comforting. I had to get a tutor in college for math. The funny thing is, my husband sees nothing but the logic in math and I don’t. I know God laughs at us.
Donna Wageman - September 2, 2021 11:50 am
Thank you, just thank you for lifting my spirit, hope and day.
W. Gary Smith - September 2, 2021 11:53 am
Just love this!
Anxiety has always and still is a part of my life. There are ways to manage it without sedatives or other harmful substances. Life is too short to let it rule us. Life itself is a gift from God that is not always simple and automatically filled with splendor and happiness. So we find what does make us happy and less filled with worry and controlling thoughts and moods.
Things like the love and support from a loved one, a furry best friend, or even a beautiful sunrise.
Debbie Britt - September 2, 2021 12:06 pm
Margaret Cade - September 2, 2021 12:12 pm
Anne McDaniel - September 2, 2021 12:19 pm
Sean, I love your essays! They have a way of making me look at life in a different way. Thank you!
Paul McCutchen - September 2, 2021 12:44 pm
I know how you feel about going back to college when you are older but I am jealous about waking up and sitting on the beach watching the sun rise.
Teri Easterling - September 2, 2021 12:47 pm
Yes, good mamas are like that! 💝
Suellen - September 2, 2021 12:54 pm
There’s a lot to be anxious about right now if we let it. It’s better that we count our blessings and fix our minds on what is good in our lives. So much is happening that we have no control over but God is still in control and that’s all I need to know.
Cindy - September 2, 2021 2:34 pm
Linda B - September 2, 2021 1:09 pm
LOVED this! Thank you, Sean.
Lucinda Harding - September 2, 2021 1:18 pm
You ALWAYS melt me with your words. As a retired teacher I see you in so many of the precious students I was fortunate to love and teach. Keep sharing your gift.
Robyn - September 2, 2021 1:26 pm
I ❤️ You too Sean! Always.
turtlekid - September 2, 2021 1:34 pm
So happy your mom is still in your life! After so many blogs about your “other mother Mary” I want to read more about this amazing mom who has been a constant in your life. I love the references to her now and then, but don’t recall a whole blog about her. You light up my life every day with your WORDS. Bless you and your wife for keeping on, keeping on!
The Dark Lord - September 2, 2021 1:35 pm
life long worrier here … for the first 55 years of my life I would get angry about stuff (that I had little control over) and fight the world like the third monkey on the ramp to the Ark when it started to rain … which of course led to 2 heart arrhythmias … and 2 divorces … the anger still shows up but now I can choose to fight or just let it melt away … part of me loves the angry fight and always will … but now I can choose to use it to deal with a problem instead of it using me …
Love your writing and your stories …
Christina - September 2, 2021 2:17 pm
Who cares how many times you took the math exam when you can capture the wonder of the sunrise, the support of your sweet Jamie and the steadfast love of your mama?! You are a gift to us Sean!
Mim - September 2, 2021 2:44 pm
Thank you for the artful touch at the top of every article and for feeding us something beautiful for our souls in your writing.
Sue Adams - September 2, 2021 2:57 pm
Now I have to wipe my eyes.
Tom - September 2, 2021 3:53 pm
You are a lucky man. What I would give to have a conversation with my mother.
Michael Wenberg - September 2, 2021 4:29 pm
Wiping my eyes, too. It is becoming a habit after reading your essays! To paraphrase the Possum Lodge mantra from the “Red Green Show,” “I’m a man, but I can cry, if I have to (or read Shawn’s essays), I guess.”
So, my approach when I have a decision to make and I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff about to jump into the void is to consider the worst possible thing that might happen. It’s probably why I related to the main character in the movie, “My Life as a Dog.” Anyway, when my wife and I quit our jobs and decided to move back to the northwest, I was worried about finding a job. I did all kinds of rat-ass jobs growing up and as I took a gazillion years to get through college so I wasn’t like I was picky. Gotta survive, right? And I was raised by my hard ass dad to not expect or unless someone puts a gun to my head, even accept handouts. Anyway, so I start thinking about what’s the worse that could happen. Maybe the best I could do is drive a cab. Hmmm? Not something I’d done before. Might meet some interesting people. Tips could be good. So, I decide, yeah, if push comes to shove, I can drive a cab. And that makes me feel better. So, we moved, and after a few weeks, I managed to snag a job tech writing. I still think driving a taxi might have been kinda interesting.
Barbara Shields - September 2, 2021 4:30 pm
Oh my, waterworks over here. I finally got my degree at 62. Seven years of night and in-line courses while working full time. I graduated with a 3.8. Grade point average. It would have been higher if not for math. I took every remedial class, hired tutors, etc. , the worst one was a guy from China who knew his stuff I am sure but he could not converse in English at all. I felt so bad for him, but I finally made it. I hope it got easier for him too!
Tom Wallin - September 2, 2021 4:38 pm
You gotta love all MOM’S!
Rebecca Souders - September 2, 2021 5:05 pm
Love, Sean…. you have lots of folks with love for you. Aren’t you lucky?!!
Chasity Davis Ritter - September 2, 2021 7:12 pm
I couldn’t get through a day without calling my mom or texting a few dozen times. If I don’t contact her first during my lunch break or when it’s time for me to get off work she’s texting me. I really couldn’t make it without my momma!!
Patricia Gibson - September 2, 2021 7:22 pm
MAM - September 2, 2021 7:36 pm
Sunshine, especially early morning sunshine, cures all, especially if love is included.
Linda Moon - September 2, 2021 7:48 pm
No…surely I must’ve read this wrong. You did not watch sunrise and text at the same time, did you?! But, then I read on to see that you texted your mother. This Mama (me) likes texts, but I LOVE phone calls. LIFE, even with all its worries, doesn’t get much better than Mamas with sons (my texter) and daughters (my caller). I love Son and Daughter the same, regardless of his/her communication choice. And, I love how you were made and your acceptance of that work of art that is YOU!
Anita Smith - September 2, 2021 7:49 pm
I was a 40 year old community college freshman who graduated high school with a GED.. I excelled in every class except math. I had to take remedial math, which didn’t even count as a credit. I did well enough (with the assistance of a tutor) to end up with the lowest grade possible and still pass on to the next class. I’m happy to report that I completed that class ( with the help of a tutor) and the lowest grade possible and still pass. I felt liberated. No more math. Still to this day when I see one of those x-y=b problems, I get the flop sweats.
Tim and Trumpy - September 4, 2021 12:34 am
Congrats on your perseverance Anita… And don’t get flop sweats. In your example x = b+y. 😄
Terri Tweedell - September 2, 2021 11:15 pm
I needed to read this today. A very dear friend has introduced me to you and I thank him.
Joann Thompson - September 3, 2021 12:04 am
I’m so glad you wrote this…I’ve been wondering about your mother.
Mim - September 3, 2021 12:57 am
Sean I am a mom of four and one of my sons, David, was a worrier. He asked me to ask the coach to take him out of right field when he was 7 because he was “nervous”. He was in a group for anxiety for a year when he was 10. He was my heart. I am like your mom, Sean. I encouraged him, I blew raspberries on his tummy, I went and picked him up from school when the anxiety was making him feel sick. I gave him things to read, I tried to bolster his ego because he was so down on himself. He had dyslexia and learning was hard for him. I think he saw himself as “less than” even though he was so loved by everyone who knew him. He was funny, kind and a wonderful friend, husband and daddy to my 2 precious grandchildren whom he loved more than life itself. Last year he took his life on a beautiful cool spring Sunday morning. It was 10 days before they shut our state down for Covid. There were more than 400 people at his funeral. Our family will never be the same. I will never get over it. He and I had a very special bond. Part of me feels like I failed him. It was completely unexpected. We spoke 2 days before about refinancing his house. I’m sorry to go on. Your essay touched me deeply. Thank you for it today. I’m in south Louisiana and struggling with no power and the unbearable heat after Ida. My own mental health is suffering. It’s all just too much. But today you made me smile In memory of my precious boy, forever 41.
Daveywayne - September 3, 2021 5:58 pm
From one coonarse who has lost a child to another… Keep the faith Dear. God is in everything and time can heal us. You and your family are in my prayers.
Mim - September 4, 2021 2:07 am
Thank you my friend. We need your prayers.
Nancy S - September 3, 2021 1:35 am
Math was my nemesis too. Passing high school algebra and geometry was an accomplishment so imagine this: I am an excellent A student in everything except math, I marry a man with a PhD in advanced math who now teaches at the same university I’m attending. He thinks it would be a good idea for me to take a math class ( I do not need it), I relent and you can imagine how that went. Age didn’t make me any better at college algebra than I was in high school…he finally realized math isn’t for everyone.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 3, 2021 2:59 pm
Kate - September 5, 2021 1:11 pm
Sean, I feel your pain about math. I never could “do” math, everyone else in my family was great in math, but although I would try I could not do well in math. Everything else was fairly easy for me and I was great at history. When I went to college I only had to pass one math class and I was a nervous wreck, but i did pass it. Later when I became a teacher and was working on my master’s degree I took a class in teaching students who struggled in school. I could identify with that. During that class we all took various tests and after one test I realized I was dyslexic which meant that sometimes my head would flip things, sometimes letters or words, but mostly numbers. I finally realized that is why I always had such a horrible time with math. I was a great reader and I am glad I finally understood my problem with math. I also began to learn how smart and creative I really was. All the pain and embarrassment of those years of being in the “dumb” groups in math finally didn’t matter anymore. And because I had struggled in school I so understood the kids that struggle and worked very hard to teach them they were not “dumb”, but that everyone is smart in different ways. I also taught at the college level and loved the “adults” who came at night after working all day. They were determined and amazing just as you were. Thanks for being a blessing.
Gayle Wilson - September 7, 2021 9:43 pm
Beautiful Sean, just beautiful. And I love your – “I’d rather earn a fun F than an ulcer-causing A”. That should go down in the chronicles of things to remember when you are stressed by anything. You and Jamie take care…and remember there are a lot of people keeping y’all close in prayer.
johnallenberry - September 8, 2021 1:26 pm
huh. Do you think Jamie could tutor me in math? I’m awful at it.