The pressure that's squeezed me for months has loosened. It had gotten progressively stronger, more forceful, wringing me exhausted even before the morning started. It's loosened, but it's not gone, and I know that it won't ever fully leave. I will get periodic reprieves, opportunities to rest, and I must make the most of those moments so that I am girded and ready when the pressure tightens again.

I am not unique, not even extraordinary. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a teacher, a  friend, and so I am pressured. Each and every day, as I expand my heart and let more people into it, I am pressured. I am squeezed with worries and concerns and fears.

I am also, though, stretched, expanded, and just as often filled with a deep, kniving joy; who knew that joy could hurt? Who knew that caring about others could make one's heart expand past breaking, so that each moment of bliss was also filled with loss?

I am less pressured this morning, but it is only a reprieve, and it's only because I have put a semester to bed, tidied it up, input grades and called four months of a journey with over 150 lovely, unique and valued students over, done, destination arrived. There is joy in seeing how many made it to the end, learned, grew, got it. There is joy in seeing how many I got to know well, got to care deeply about, got to see master new skills. There is joy in looking ahead at the next semester's rosters and seeing so many of them choosing to continue that journey with me.

There is sadness, though, at seeing the names of those who did not complete the journey with me, who traveled only part of the way and left. There is sadness in seeing the names of those whom I was not able to help. There is disappointment when I see the names of those with whom I did not connect.

The pressure, though, is relieved. The semester is over. The grades are uploaded; the gradebooks will be dropped off today. This section of the journey is over, and I can breathe easier. Now, I get to look forward to the next part of the journey, to tweak and adjust and plan how I will plot the course (literally), how I will impart the wisdom that will let the goals and outcomes be met. I like this part, this anticipation of new journeys, that new faces will be mixed in with the precious, dear faces of students who have expanded and contracted my heart. I fall asleep each night with thoughts of what I will teach, what I will share, how I will get there, to May, and wonder how many will be able to stay on the road with me.

I know that I will feel the pressure again, the tight squeeze, and that just like each moment, each breath, each beat of my heart, that the pressure will ease before it squeezes again. The steady rhythm, the predictability, comfort me. I am never on this journey alone, and each year, more join me, and my heart expands past breaking point.