As I continue working on A Matter of Semantics second edition, a NEW lesson has worked its way into the revisions. Here are parts of that new lesson, raw and uncut. Enjoy!
But, if you want this unforgettable, magical, intoxicating sort of college experience, you have to do it right, and give the experience all that you have – the full complement of your time, energies, and focus, as though you were in a monogamous relationship. You have to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities your college experience will present and afford you and not just those that are within your comfort zone. You have to allow yourself the ability to transform as a result of the experiences you will encounter, and not fight reality when you realize you have grown into someone new, someone different, or someone your high school friends no longer recognize.
There is no underestimating the impact of the college experience. It has the ability to change your life, for the better.
This life lesson – of dedicating yourself completely, fully, unselfishly – one you can carry with you in every facet of life. Whether you’re in a committed relationship, on a sports team, involved in an organization, or pursuing graduate studies. If you want to get the most out of those experiences, you have to commit yourself.
Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being content with your backup role on the soccer team, for instance. Nothing wrong with playing for the sake of playing or just to have fun. Nothing wrong, whatsoever, with being on a team, in an organization, or in a relationship just for the experience of it all.
But if you want get the most out of your involvement on that team, organization, relationship, or in this case, college experience, you have to give yourself the permission to be vulnerable and allow the experience to transform you in ways you never thought possible. You have to give yourself – completely, fully, and unselfishly – to the experience. In short, you have to do it right, and that means going all in.
I’m taking it waaay back with this piece. This is one of the first stories I composed, in its original form, teenage voice, flaws and all. I was a high school senior and was given an assignment for my creative writing class. I’m not sure what my teacher was expecting, but this is the story that pour itself out, from inside of me. I hope you enjoy it!
The Long Way Home
Damn! I knew I should’a waited for the twenty-seven. I don’t feel like walking down this street, Victor says to himself while riding the bus back to his house. He looks out of the window and can hardly see anything; it’s very dark outside. His stop is nearing. Almost half-heartedly, Victor presses the bell which signals the bus driver that a passenger wants to get off. He slowly rises out of his slouched position and walks to the nearest exit. “Back Door” he yells while struggling to push the twin doors open. The bus driver presses a button on his control panel and with a slight touch, both doors open. Victor takes three steps downward onto the sidewalk, turns around, and waits for the bus pull off. He looks straight ahead. Across the street from the bus stop lies a vacant lot. Victor is all alone. He doesn’t like what he sees. He waits for the cars to pass, looks both ways, and begins his journey:
Complete darkness surrounds the city streets as Victor crosses over into the vacant lot. He again realizes he shouldn’t have taken the No. 13 bus; it may indeed be a long walk home. He could have waited another five minutes for the No. 27 bus that would have dropped him off around the corner from his house. Instead, Victor gave in to his impatience and settled for the long walk. He enters the lot which serves as a short-cut for two adjoining streets. He flows freely over dirt, candy wrappers, and empty crack viles. He trots around rocks, broken glass, and used condoms. The sounds of the streets play an unnerving tune on Victor’s ear drums. He hears random gun shots, police sirens, and skidding stolen cars. His taste buds are so displeased with disgust that he almost vomits. Yet, Victor calms himself and tries not to inhale the smells of piss (which has amassed from constant urination), feces (from stray dogs), and weed (from the people standing outside getting high). Despite the distractions, it’s simply Victor against his journey, one-on-one, man-to-man. He takes one last step out of the filth and escapes, though he’s far from relieved.
As he continues his journey, Victor comes across a frightening sight from his childhood: a circular, three story gray house surrounded by roaming cats. He always trembled upon sight of the house and tonight was no exception. Right next to the lifeless house lies a similar house with a rectangular shape and a huge side yard. A streetlight shines down in front of the rectangular house revealing its color, a dull green. Victor begins staring at the two house, noting their similarities and difference. Suddenly, he hears sounds of swift movement and chains rattling: “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” Two humungous Rottweilers violently charge in Victor’s direction. He’s saved only by the gates which seals the beasts in their den. The dogs’ ferocious barks almost send Victor retreating to the opposite side of the street, nevertheless, causing him to walk with more caution and more quickly too.
Victor’s journey is almost over. He’s now able to see his house on a street which is otherwise, a ghost-town. However, darkness is still following him. All the streetlights are out, save three. A slight joyous feeling enters Victor’s body as he becomes more relieved. While looking about, grinning, and almost mocking the darkness and horrors of the streets, Victor notices a small animal lying on the ground. Somebody done ran over another damn cat, he says to himself, shaking his head in disappointment. The cat’s gray fur is torn and stained with its blood. The cat’s intestine, guts, and brains are all over the street. The feline’s internal organs hanging out look like spaghetti and Victor anticipates the horrible odor the corpse will give off. If I close my mouth and try not to inhale, I won’t even smell the dead cat, Victor says to himself. Victor takes a deep breath, performs the arduous task, and in an instant, it’s over. Ha! He laughs to himself knowing that he has the streets beaten.
As Victor heads for the home stretch, a car on the opposite side of the street drives slowly towards him. The car stops. A dark figure wearing a black leather jacket gets out. The figure begins to walk in Victor’s direction. Victor looks to his right, sees another vacant lot, and assumes the figure is going to take a leak. As suspected, the man in the black jacket darts towards the lot. He unzips his jeans and takes a piss. Steam rises above the figure in the cold air. The man in the black jacket turns around. He zips his zipper and walks back in the direction from which he came. On his way back, he stops just before Victor, unzips his jacket, and pulls out an enormous handgun.
“Come up off that cash now, motherfucka”, the man in the black jacket says. Suspecting that he sells drugs, the man demands Victor’s nightly earnings. He takes a step towards Victor. Victor can not see his face. He only sees a dark figure and the large gun.
“C-C-Cash…”, Victor replies.
“Yeah! That loot you just got finished making…Hand it over!” He takes another step towards Victor. Victor is now able to capture every detail of the weapon: as dark as night itself, its huge rectangular frame conjures thoughts of the house with the Rottweillers; it appears to be a .45mm pistol. The man’s finger is gently caressing the trigger. Victor pleads for his life. He’s so terrified that he can barely speak.
“I…I don’t got no loot. I just…I just got off the bus man. I don’t even clock”, Victor responds. He pulls his pockets from inside his pants. He offers a handful of lintballs.
“Then what the hell you doin’ out this time-a-night?!”
“I just…I just came from downtown. I had to walk my girl home”
The man in the black jacket stares blankly at Victor. Victor looks up at the man as if he was receiving communion from a priest. Time seems to stop. The man in the black jacket opens his mouth. Victor fears the result.
“Get the fuck out my face”, the man in the black coat utters.
Yes! He’s spared me, Victor thinks to himself. Victor’s first instinct is to run. No. He can’t. He slowly walks away. The man in the black jacket returns to his car. Victor speeds up his pace. Before long, he’s sprinting.
While Victor is racing home, he hears a door open. “Where the fuck the money at”, someone shouts.
“He ain’t have none.”
“What the fuck you mean he ain’t have no money! He wouldn’t be out this time-a-night if he didn’t!”
“Man, get your ass in the car so we can bail.”
“Come on man, let’s get the fuck outta here.”
“Naw! He holdin’ out on us!” Someone shouts to Victor, “Yo motherfucka you ain’t leavin that easy!”
Victor hears the voice calling, but cannot turn around. He continues running. Suddenly, he hears a series of shots being fired. Victor falls after being hit multiple times. Instantly, he loses his sense of smell. Before too long, he can neither hear nor taste. Victor’s vision is still strong. He can see his own blood as a streetlight shines down upon it. He starts convulsing. The sight of his own blood is horrifying. His eyesight begins to weaken. He soon goes blind. The last thing Victor feels is a hand taking off his sneakers and wrestling off his socks.
Our campus was so charming that it was intoxicating – just one visit to the Q was enough for any high school student to fall in love. The phrase the grass is always greener didn’t apply to our campus; for, no matter where you stood, the patch of grass right by your feet seemed to be the greenest anywhere on earth, and each blade appeared as if it had been individually groomed, much like a beautiful girl who spends hours in front of the mirror, making sure each strand of her hair falls perfectly in place. The trees were tall enough that they provided ample shade when we walked to class, but weren’t so monstrous that they belonged in a forest. Each time I inhaled, I couldn’t help but notice the air was fresher and purer than any I had ever tasted, like a tall glass of sweet, ice-cold lemonade on a scorching hot summer’s day. The sun was warmer, brighter, and yellower than I had ever seen, and it painted our skies a breathtaking brilliant blue. When night fell, the moon glowed, and the stars twinkled so luminously that the usually pitch-black skies appeared just a few shades darker than the afternoon skies. During those four years, it felt like San Diego had visited Connecticut, especially in October when the foliage of Sleeping Giant Mountain (which sat, rather slept, across the road from our campus) would turn the same brilliant shades of canary yellow, pumpkin orange, forest green, and scarlet red that I only remember seeing in Bob Ross’s paintings, or, as we were, nestled in the mountains of New England. Even when the weather was inclement, it was still, somehow perfect: when it rained, it would only pour for an hour (or so), and afterward, rainbows stretched across our bright blue skies; and when it snowed, classes were canceled and we spent the day sledding down hills, having snowball fights, and making snowmen, and afterwards, we sipped beer or hot chocolate (or, perhaps, both) to warm up.
By October, the New England air was beginning to kick – it bit like Jack Daniel’s, which my friends and I drank together on one October evening during our freshmen year.
(The rest is a creative recreation one of the memorable nights, my freshman year.)
“What the fuck,” the groggy voice called out from the other end of the hall, sounding like a small animal crying for help. We couldn’t help but chuckle when we heard his heavy footsteps come rumbling.
“So you like the Beastie Boys,” I said to Chris as Little Sean burst into the room.
“The Beastie Boys are dope,” Rick added, almost as if it was planned; the word dope sounded oddly out of place coming from his baritone voice, and we all snickered.
“You guys are dead,” Little Sean screamed.
We all burst into laughter. Little Sean knew he was the butt of the perfect prank, but the frustrated look on his face told us he didn’t know why were picking on him this time…and to such an extreme measure.
“Watch out! Little Sean is gonna puke,” Adam yelled, as he rolled over on his bed (nearly crushing Rick), and slipped underneath his blanket. For a big guy, Adam moved pretty fast, but his blanket only covered his chest, and he looked like pigs in a blanket with his legs and feet dangling off his bed.
Little Sean looked like a deer in headlights. It was almost as if he’d forgotten that he puked all over Chris’ rug the night before. You could see the faded memories coming back to him as the color left his face. He was shocked and stunned, and for the first time since I met him, Little Sean was speechless – no retort, no sarcasm, no using someone else’s words, nothing.
He walked away sheepishly, and we couldn’t help but laugh, and a few minutes later we all ran down the hall, (Adam had grabbed his camera) and watched Little Sean struggle to turn everything right-side-up.
It took Little Sean the rest of the day to return his stuff back to the way it was, and clean up the shampoo, conditioner, soap, and shaving cream that had spilled on the floor. From down the hall, we could hear the loud clank of furniture hitting the floor, and we laughed with every bang. We finished watching Austin Powers a couple of hours later, and Tim and I went to help Little Sean flip his bed right-side-up.
It wasn’t until ten o’clock when Little Sean joined the rest of us across the hall. We pretended to hide our drinks as he walked in, but he wanted no part of alcohol that night. Instead, he slipped Chris a $75 Target gift card, with the words My Bad written on the envelope, and we did a socials; this time, with Kamikaze shots.
I attended convocation at the place where I work, today. It was okay. Too hot and humid for my liking. But I quickly found a spot in the shade, and attempted to cool off after the student government president, dean of faculty, and president of the college all delivered addresses. Being there, watching the students sitting in plastic chairs, baking under the sun, reminded me of my first day at college.
It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime memories. Like the day you get your driver’s license, your senior prom (for better or for worse), the day you get married, the moment you watch your child come into the world (if you’re lucky enough to experience the latter two.).
My first day at college was a mixture of excitement (ecstatic about the physical distance I’d be placing between me, and the place where I grew up), sadness (it felt like I was leaving the place where I grew up, and everyone I knew, behind), and anxiety (I wondered less about whether my roommates would be weirdoes, and more about whether I brought enough deodorant).
But that first day, I was away from my family, really, for the first time in my life. Away from the responsibilities of coming home at a decent hour, or calling my mother to tell her where I’d be. Removed from the wailing police sirens and other urban lullabies that sang me to sleep. Separated from my friends, the bodegas, bus routes and Path trains, and everything that made New Jersey home.
The one thing I didn’t know – the one thing I wish I had known – was that, that day, I was literally starting my life. It wasn’t like the time I went to a different high school than all of my friends, and I had to adjust. It was like the time I moved to a different part of the city, and I had to make new friends. No, starting college was much different than anything I had ever experienced.
That night, I remember setting up my things and going to bed. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and my roommates wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. When the next day arrived, it became real. The nightlife. The drunkenness. My classmates wandering around from building to building. Chatting, buzzing, trying desperately to fit in.
I sat back, watching it all unfold, thinking to myself, is this really how it’s going to be for the next four years. Wondering where, or how, I’d even fit in. Fitting in, isn’t that what most students are just trying to do? Find their place, their niche, the place where they feel like they belong. That was me on a Saturday night, with most of my classmates (or so it seemed) stumbling from party to party, praying life didn’t pass them by.
The pit of my stomach felt unsettled. I knew I’d belonged, but that’s not what was playing out in front of me. I wanted no part of the inebriated environment. That was some shit I couldn’t get down with. Some shit that I judged my classmates for. See, what I didn’t know at that time, was that we were all in the same boat – drunk or not. Laughing with people we’d just met or sitting by our lonesome. We were all in the same predicament. Just trying to make this new place feel like home.
And, all these years later, that’s become so much of what life is about. Trying to make things feel normal, like you’ve been there forever. Whether it’s a new job or a new house. A cute guy you just met or the newest cell phone you just had to buy. We’re all in the same boat. Trying to make each, and every experience, feel like a little less intimidating, a little more welcoming. An organic extension of ourselves. Like that old Cheers song, a place where everybody knows our name.
That’s what so much of life has become. Vying, trying, and fighting, desperately, just to not feel out of place. Whether we’re chatting on our cell phones while walking down the street, meanwhile missing out on life that’s taking place all around us. After all, who wants to be an outsider, when it’s much more comfortable being part of the in crowd – however you define that term.
The college experience teaches us lesson that we can hold onto for the rest of our lives. Life is going to bring uncertainty and anxiety. Life is going to be confusing and chaotic. Life isn’t always going to feel normal and organic. The sooner we allow ourselves to get used to this reality, the better off we’ll be at adjusting to the every-changing scenery around us.
I wish I could tell my eighteen-year-old self that, the day I moved into college. But that’s also the beauty of it. Some things you can’t learn reading some obscure passage or by heeding the advice of other people. Some things you just have to learn on your own. Like how to make each and every experience, an organic extension of yourself.
I’ve been feverishly working to finish my latest project, and I wanted to another sneak peak!!! I have to make another round of edits, but here is a chapter of one of the main characters. I hope you enjoy!
“Where are we,” Ashleigh yawned, wiping crusts from her eyes. Staring out of the window, she saw park-style benches, large trees, and groups of students – with smiles as bright as their gold T-shirts – walking to and from what appeared to be a hiking trail.
“A park near the school,” Amanda answered. “I thought we’d start here, and work our way around the town,” she said, referencing the town of Hamden, Connecticut, the town where the school Ashleigh would be attending, was located.
“How are you feeling, Ash,” Amanda asked.
“I’ve been better.”
“There’s something I wanted to show you,” Amanda said, her voice lively and animated.
“Is it a rock to bash my skull in?”
“Ash,” Amanda whispered.
“Sorry mom,” Ashleigh said, knowing she had crossed the line of what her mother would, and would not, tolerate. Taking things for granted, being snide and overly negative, even joking about ending your life, were topics Amanda didn’t take lightly.
After picking up a map, Amanda and Ashleigh set off on the Tower Trail, the least difficult route that led to the top of Sleeping Giant.
The trail began before the mother-daughter duo knew they were hiking, stepping over large rocks and exposed tree branches, as they went from the parking lot, to a wide gravel path.
“Do you think you’re ready to talk about it,” Amanda asked, her confident voice now fragile.
Ashleigh knew she was going to have to have the conversation with her mom, she just didn’t know when it would be. She dodged talking about it the night everything happened, when she abruptly asked Tasha to drive to the hospital for the forensic exam. Ashleigh knew her mom had been disappointed, but Ashleigh couldn’t bring herself to admit something so personal and embarrassing to her mother, when Ashleigh had a hard time wrapping her mind around the shame, guilt, and rage she had festering inside. Ashleigh swore the conversation would have happened the week after everything happened, but it didn’t. Instead, Ashleigh’s mom let her stay home from school, calling her throughout the day just to make sure she was eating, and giving her soft kisses on the forehead when she came home from work. Ashleigh felt pressured to have the conversation in the car, during the two-hour drive from New Jersey to Connecticut, but instead, she fell asleep. She still didn’t quite know why her mom had decided, all of a sudden, to take a day off from work and drive her daughter to Quinnipiac University, the school she would be attending in the fall. Ashleigh was sure her mom was up to something in mind – a surprise, maybe. She just hoped it wouldn’t be a talk about what happened that night was no big deal. She’d heard enough of that bullshit, from some bitch on CNN. Some hideous old hag who had never been raped and did not work with rape victims, but was still spouting off, about how women were claiming rape, when they just had a bad hookup, because after all, if women were truly being raped, they could just get up and leave or tell the guy ‘No’, I’m not interested. Ashleigh wished that she could have reached through the screen and kicked the old bitch in the vagina. The woman’s words cut deeper than any razor blade she slid across her wrists. Instead of feeling the rush of blood oozing from her neatly-torn flesh, hearing the woman’s absurd comments made Ashleigh feel like complete shit, like she brought this upon herself, like she somehow asked to be raped. The woman may as well have walked up the Ashleigh, spit in her face and branded the word cunt across her forehead.
“Sure,” Ashleigh said, feeling defeated. She’d had the conversation with herself a million times already, so having the conversation with her mother now, felt like overkill. Still, Ashleigh knew the conversation needed to be had, she just hoped her mom wouldn’t ask her why.
At that moment, like a butterfly landing on your shoulder, when you swore you were having the shittiest day, memories of heart-to-hearts Ashleigh had with her mom came rushing back into her mind: The time, at her old school, rumors spread that she was a slut when the story surfaced of how she gave the captain of the football team a blowjob. The nights she cried herself to sleep when her mom told her they were moving to New Jersey. The day at her new school that she got suspended for telling one of her teacher’s to fuck off. The time she and Tasha got drunk off a bottle of whiskey Tasha’s father had hidden, both girls puking every last remnant of substance that was inside of their stomachs, until they were dry heaving and spitting up bile. All of those shitty times were made less shitty, even bearable, because even though her mother didn’t agree with Ashleigh’s behaviors, she never judged or made her feel like crap, and was understanding. She’s not like that, Ashleigh smiled inside, as she looked to her mother, whose eyes were focused on the mountainous terrain. She’s actually pretty chill to talk to and is surprisingly calm when it comes to shitty situations that most parents would flip out over.
Here is an excerpt from the book I’m working on, the book I hope to have completed by the upcoming fall. Still working on a suitable title. As you’ll see, the topic is slightly different than “A Matter of Semantics”, but touches one that I am equally passionate about — preventing sexual violence and violence against women. I’d love to hear/read/see your thoughts on this small excerpt! Enjoy! AS
The high school cafeteria resembled a failed harmonious attempt at the United Nations. The handful of Black kids sat at one table. The Asian students were at another table. The students of Latin heritage – no matter if they were Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Guatemalan – took their seat at yet another table. Everyone else, that is, the White students filled the rest of the tables in the cafeteria, but even they divided themselves by wealth, intellect, popularity, athletes, and Emo statutes. Despite the principal’s attempt to erase the color barriers between the students – bringing in a diversity speaker, scheduling multi-cultural awareness programs – the students reverted back to their comfort zones the first chance they got, like an old habit that just wouldn’t go away.
A rhythmic melody hung in the air, the students’ conversations rose way above the level of chit-chatter. The girls’ voices were high-pitched. The guys’ voices did their best to boom with machismo. Combined, they girls’ and boys’ voices more than just loud, they were deafening.
Lauryn sat at the edge of a Goth table, by herself. She had chopped her hair and ditched her contacts for a pair of dorky glasses she sported her freshman year. She traded in her usual attire of spaghetti-strapped tank tops, leggings, and thigh-high boots for oversized hoodies, ripped jeans, and Chuck Taylor’s. She nibbled her sandwich, just hoping not be seen. She looked around the cafeteria, where the students moved from the lunch line to the tables, from the tables to the trash cans, and from the trash cans back to the tables, like clockwork. Lauryn stared blankly at the walls, hoping they would reveal some magical answer. Classmates and former friends came and went from her line of sight, and she didn’t even blink. Like she was there physically, but psychologically, she had been in another state.
“Yeah Dave,” a loud voice shouted, snapping Lauryn from zoning out. She looked towards the cafeteria door, and saw Dave Marino walking inside. He smiled and nodded to a table full of guys, behind Lauryn. She cringed and buried her head, hoping he wouldn’t see her. Tears filled her eyes and she started to tremble. She felt Dave’s presence hovering over her, like he was an omniscient force. It felt as if an hour had passed, and her throat felt as if it was closing. The water had run through her, and she sprang from her seat. When she stood, she found Dave standing in the same spot, smiling. At her, and no one else. It was almost as if he were thinking, you know, that I know, that you know that I know, that you are a fucking slut.
Lauryn stormed out of the cafeteria, and pushed past Dave, fighting back the tears. She turned a corner and spilled into the girls’ bathroom. She pushed on the bathroom stall doors until one finally opened. She threw herself inside, fell to knees, and vomited.
Journal entry, from the panel I participated in, at Quinnipiac University a couple of weeks ago. Can you take a guess as to whom I wrote this letter?
I sat in that chair, not fully knowing what to expect. I had prepared for what I thought was to come, but still not knowing what, or how, it was all going to go down. It wasn’t so much anxiety, as it was nerves. That’s how I always get before speaking engagements. Nervous. Am I projecting good energy? Do I know how I’m going to answer the first (and most obvious) question? Are my thoughts flowing cohesively, such that my words will come out seamlessly, and I will come across articulate and engaging, as opposed to a stuttering, tongue-tied, mumbling dufus? You know how I can sometimes, when I’m excited, and bouncing off the walls, and my mind is moving so fast that my mouth can’t keep up!
I felt confident enough. I’d prepared a good amount, but not so much that my thoughts were filled with singular responses to complex, and complicated questions.
Students packed the small room, with its square shape and wooden wainscoting décor. The room felt smaller than I remembered it. No longer was it this grand space that I thought it had been; now, it felt large enough to accommodate a good sized-audience, but small enough to still feel intimate. True to the Quinnipiac way, I guess.
The first question was read, and I deferred to another panelist. Not surprising, I defer most things that I’m offered – whether it’s a ride or someone asking about my day. It’s not because of some underhanded plan, but rather, I’d prefer to give rather than take. Give a compliment, as opposed to take or receive one. Give someone a first attempt, and give them all the praise, instead of taking whatever limelight and spotlight for myself. This decision was made easier as one of the panelists was a current Quinnipiac student. In my mind, it made sense for him to be the star of the show. As he was speaking, I swear I was doing my damndest to pay attention. But my mind kept going back to my own response – I had to make sure that I nailed the first question. If you don’t start off well, it would have become an insurmountable task to get back on track, or right the ship, so to say. What’s the cliché – you can never make a second first impression? You know that I hate clichés, but this one fits.
So I sat in my chair, feeling the eyes on me. When it was my turn, I picked up the microphone and attempted to speak. It’s never my style to try and sound articulate or poetic. That shit just happens. Well, I shouldn’t call it shit. But you know what I mean. Speaking well just seems to come to me – a talent that I think I often take for granted (hence, referring to it as shit, the way I’d refer to something I’ve done a zillion times, like take out the trash), but one that I work on, incessantly. I don’t want to be good. I want to be great. And I don’t want to just be great, I want to be the best. But that’s not what’s running through my mind. All I’m trying to accomplish, is turning my thoughts into words, in a fashion that will sound clear and will resonate with the audience. The articulate, engaging, or even poetic stuff just happens on its own. That’s not something that I try to control.
I had you in mind when I answered the first question – the value of a college education. Value can be such a loaded word, can’t it? What’s valuable to one person, may not be valuable to another person. And that’s precisely what I tried to convey. My opening remarks were something to the effect of – the value of the college experience lies within each student. That a college education will have as much, or as little, value as each student allows it to have. On the surface, I know that can sound coy, or as if I’m not really answering the question. But, here’s what I mean. Take the girl (here’s when I thought of you), who knew she wanted to become an occupational therapist. She did some volunteer work at a nursing home, during high school, and discovered her passion for therapy and helping people get back to their daily lives. That student, who gets admitted to a school with a reputable OT program, goes on to graduate with honors. She lands a job, and goes from a nervous new-grad, to a proficient, senior-level professional. If that girl, now a woman, decides to get married, and have children, she can decide to put her OT career on hold. And when she’s ready, she can resume her OT career, just like that. For this individual, a college education will be invaluable – there would have been no other way she’d have been able to become an OT without going to college. Said simply, you can’t become an OT by going to trade school.
Now, this isn’t to say that every career requires a college education. But our focus was on value. And for students who do it right – focusing as much on their academic, as they do on their career and personal development – there will be no monetary or numeric vale that can be given to the college experience. It will be part of what makes them unique; part of their fabric. The college experience will be a very distinct part of how they see, and define themselves. Like – Jessica, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, OT, college graduate. The experience is one that’ll always keep with them. (Or maybe it was just me, who had such a transformational college experience.)
Once I shared that story, everything seemed to ease. I saw heads nodding, faces smiling, people beginning to feel connected to what I was saying. That was the engaged part, I suppose. But that wasn’t what I set out to accomplish. I just wanted to convey an idea (a brilliant idea, mind you!, that I crafted through my mental preparation), and let everything happen. Told you…that other stuff, it just comes!
A poem I wrote some years ago, during a time when I was felt torn between what is, and what could be. Between what I saw everyday, and what I had never seen. Between two different paths, that would never cross. As I sit here now, I am just as torn as I had been, some years ago…although I find comfort in knowing that more good can come out of the process of choosing, as would come out of the outcome or end result. I hope you enjoy this piece, for all those times you might feel torn.
“The Leaves Waved Hello to me Again Today”
The leaves waved hello to me today;
They were unmoved by the snobbish grin masking my thoughts of being amongst the crashing waves.
The leaves simply waved an outstretched hand as I passed her by.
Her limbs were full of vibrant colors – greens, and yellows, and oranges
Contrasting brilliantly against the bright blue sky;
She did not ask where I was traveling to,
But simply wished me well along my way.
She greeted me with a smile that is as warm as a mother’s touch –
Like a-glass-of-warm-milk comforting or put-your-fears-to-rest soothing.
I felt abandoned
As I looked about.
Where were the blue waters that brought such tranquility?
And the sparkling stars that allowed me to dream?
The leaves saw anxiety dancing in my eyes,
And heard me sigh over the sand I could feel slipping through my finger tips.
She made promises that braches bearing the ripest apples and perkiest peaches
Would hang so low they would tickle my taste buds;
Of winds so gentle they would ruffle the curls in my lover’s hair;
And of the sun luminously setting behind the mountains, coloring the pale blue sky yellow, orange, and red.
I could not ask the leaves why she adored me so,
And wanted to make me the prince of her colorful town.
I stared at her invitation,
How could I not feel relaxed while sitting on her cottony blades of grass?
How could I not find solace in watching the chameleonic clouds floating in her skies?
And how could I not yearn to live in a vibrant world where smiles are warm and welcoming, and not cold and contrived;
As I sped along the highway, she continued waving,
I waved back.
Perhaps I will open the door to the town of the leaves,
And leave the sand and water for another.
I smiled, sending back her invitation with a maybe;
Well, a definite maybe –
I think I can get used to a life amongst the leaves.
Last week, I was asked to take part in a social-media driven campaign known as the Gratitude Challenge. I accepted the offer and as directed, over the next 5 days, I posted several entities for which I am grateful. The entities ranged from family and friends (the usual suspects) to my college experience and the knee surgeries I had, way back when.
Now, however, as I reflect on gratitude – from a distant perspective, where I’m not challenged to reflect on it – I have a sort of different approach. It would be too cliché to simply say, I am grateful for everything that I have. Because, really, am I grateful that I had a mouse dart across my kitchen floor one morning, while my dog sat in the other room, looking at me, as if he were saying, What? What’d I do? Wanna play? No, okay. Maybe later. Or what about the cobwebs in the shed? Or the dust bunnies under my couch?
Clearly, not all of our possessions or attributes are worthy of gratitude.
So, what does it mean to be grateful? That I cannot complain when the batteries in my remote control die, because complaining would somehow take away from the luxury of owning a television. That I cannot scream when the person driving in front me cuts me off, because screaming would somehow take away from the comfort of having a reliable car to get me from place to place. Or that I cannot get frustrated with automated telephone prompts, because bearing frustration would somehow take away from the privilege of having a credit card, when many people don’t even have good credit.
I’ve come to this place, this house really, like the one Robert Frost wrote about in his famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. A house that I own, but don’t have to relegate myself to. I can venture outside of the house, knowing that I can return anytime I want. I can yell and scream about the batteries in my remote dying, or the lady cutting me off, or the annoying telephone prompts, because, when night falls – just like I will return home – I will see how trivial these annoyances truly are. That doesn’t mean I cannot get annoyed, it only means that I will not let such annoyances taint my perspective and blur my vision of the world. That I will not let dead batteries ruin the game of Monopoly I’ll play with my wife. That I will not let that woman who cut me off enrage me to the point that I speed out of control and put other drivers in jeopardy. That I will not let the automated telephone prompts stop me from getting my questions answered or paying my credit card bill on time.
I’ll admit it – I don’t wake up with a smile on my face every morning, I don’t wave hello when someone flips me off (although, sarcastically speaking, maybe I should!), and I don’t scream in excited when my dog won’t catch the mouse in my kitchen. But, but – there’s a big fat, hoooowever. I’ve also made up my mind to not let daily challenges, frustrations, annoyances (or whatever you want to call them) stop me from seeing and appreciating treasures such as this great September weather (which I’ve been looking forward to, since June), and football season being back (which I’ve been looking forward to, since February), and the house that I own (which gives me a place to finally call home).
So, maybe gratitude is a mindset, instead of a possession. A mindset of not allowing yourself to be defeated, consumed, or jaded by life. Life can be stressful, there’s no doubt about that. But perhaps gratitude demands that we adjust to life and remain flexible; and that we accept alternatives and remain open for new possibilities; and that we make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of everything we have, everything we have worked for, and everything we’ve grown out of. That we be show gratitude whenever we can, however long we can, for as often as we can.
All in all, gratitude is like the house in the Robert Frost poem, that you can come back to, when the temperature drops and a frigid chill takes over the air. Gratitude, my friend, is a place where you can live, but not feel confined to. The glass may be half-empty or half-full, and it’s okay to see it either way. So as long as you remember that when your glass is completely empty, at least you have your dog, staring at you and wagging his tail, as if he’s trying to say, Ready to play?
You’ve been great. Now enjoy “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.