THE NEXT STEP - 19 December 2012
Sandhill Crane Landing at Sunset - Bosque Del Apache NWR, New Mexico
Last Friday something terrible happened. It was the attack in Newtown Connecticut that left 28 people dead. Like everyone else, I've been reading about the attack. I've been reading opinions. There have been calls to do something, something about fire-arms availability, to improving mental health. Of course, I have thoughts, opinions, on lots of things. But, I'm not so confident I have them so well defined to back one opinion or another. Instead of talking about my undeveloped opinion, I kept reading these opinion pieces then stumbled across a comment attributed to a teacher who survived the shooting. She said something to the effect that because of those children lost their lives it might be difficult to not only return to that school, but to return to school as an educator. Wow, that got me thinking and wondering very deeply.
To be fair, this statement was a statement reported by someone from someone else--this is at least four times removed from you hearing it first hand. So, take my statement with a grain of salt. But, it makes sense. You're a survivor of a horrific experience, something you might've never considered as a possibility for yourself. You not only survived but you're unscathed. Yet, your charges, your associates, your friends are gone. They're taken, yet you remain. And, while it's calm now you know there's a void and it's deep. Something is just not right, right like it was before. You're thinking it will never be the same.
I was there once, at the void. I was 18 on an Easter Sunday at the University of Michigan. I was kneeling in the hallway out of my dorm room, just at the door seal, my hands checking stone cold concrete where carpet was hastily cut out. It was the spot my friend and a student resident assistant where gunned down the Friday prior, Good Friday, in 1981. The janitors must have removed the stained sections while we were all out, escaping from the scene for the weekend. It was quiet. I don't recall any noise as I knelt there. It was just me and that concrete. I remember an intense feeling of anxiety, more than I ever felt before or since. I remember feeling I wasn't ready to be back at this scene just 60 hours later. It was too early.
I know I wasn't thinking about anything except that feeling, that anxiety. I wasn't looking ahead to the end of the semester's classes. I wasn't thinking of finals soon to follow. I wasn't thinking of my friends. I was just filled with an uncomfortable feeling. I didn't think I could get back to class. I needed to head home.
I called my dad.
When we talked, I beat around the bush. I talked about the anxiety. I talked about how it felt to be there in my room, not three feet from that concrete. Eventually I stated it flat out "I need to come home".
To this day I don't recall what he said to me. He didn't say anything pep-talk like as I don't recall feeling inspired after our talk. I guess he said just enough to get me off the ledge before leaping into the void by abandoning school. I stayed. I remember getting off the phone thinking "I'm staying" but not much else. I wasn't inspired broadly. I wasn't pumped to tackle incredible feats. I just stayed... and took the next step of being a student at Michigan.
I had a purpose, that of being a student. The anxiety never returned. I guess for me the simple act of pointing into a direction was enough to keep those feelings at bay. Yes, I was affected. I performed poorly the last week and through my finals. I transformed exceedingly high potential grades from a good performance from most of the semester into B's because of those last couple of weeks. While I don't recall being conflicted with remorse or pain related to the murders, I was simply too occupied with other "stuff" to be fully prepared for those end of semester evals.
I moved on at the University of Michigan to graduation to eventually having a very satisfying career in the aviation world. I have much to be thankful for after all that transpired since that Good Friday. I never would've imagined the course my life took. The opportunities and circumstances were unpredictable and inexplainable. They just happened. Yet, I know if I didn't "just stay" I would not be here right now having had that success. I would be somewhere else.
Because I have been through all that, I have something to say. For that teacher, or anyone else who's trying to figure out where to put that next step when staring into the "void, the answer is simple. The answer is simply "keep taking steps". There is no need to figure it all out before hand. There is no requirement to have the course ahead clear and plain. The only thing the "world" requires you to do is simply take that next step, then the one after, then the following. Eventually, the course will become more clear. Your faith will be rewarded. Your life will move forward. That's the way it worked for me. It's the way I've found it always works. Clarity is not required prior to the first step. Taking the next step is. Have faith.