It is easy to look in the mirror and not see any value. Walking out of class yesterday, feeling too miserable because I can’t understand the math behind economics, I kept having memories from my freshman year of college in Kentucky; they kept looping through my head.
What if I could go back to that point and start over, try harder, do more? What is the sum of my time since then? Thirty years ago, I was a wiry kid who felt set apart from the deeply entrenched Appalachian culture of south-central Kentucky. The way the food was made, the relentless evangelical Bible worship, the rigor of studying, trying to manage my identity, being broke, having to make choices that would point this big ship called “The Rest of Your Life.” And what did I know then?
But god, did I try to soak it all in. Who would have guessed that thirty years later, I’d be in the same boat — sweating the details of a 101 class. Ha!
Those days in Kentucky are long gone. The forest fire fighting. Camping on the mountaintop. The colorful “moonbow” over the nearby waterfalls. Working in the woodshop. Swim team. Eastern Religion class … and endlessly debating religion. The old men picking banjo and guitar outside the mailroom.
I remember Ted, my buddy who got his wife back home pregnant during our freshman year. I had no idea what to say, so I gave him my jar of coins, all the money I had in the world. And Chris, whose most valuable possession seemed to be a photo of his dog. And the one effeminate kid on my floor who everyone was afraid of rooming with. I remember telling them he wasn’t interested in them and to stop being such chickens. I remember girls I know having terrible things happen to them and wanting to murder the men who did it. Their punishment? Residence Hall court of Peer Review. Is that justice? Rape a girl and go clean some toilets for a week. No police needed.
I got kicked out of that school. Came home in utter defeat, broken. Severed. Cast aside. Being there, but then being forced out like that — and leaving a certain girl I knew there — is a pain that shaped me for years. What did I do? I eventually got back up and lived my life. And I took my work boots with me.
I achieved so many of the things I had hoped to demonstrate value and self-worth. Deep inside was always that hurt, like a little engine motivating and pushing me. Heck of a thing, walking around with lingering pain inside. I think we all have it, one way or another. But we manage, don’t we? Through friends, loved ones, a quiet pause as the sunsets. We manage. Most of us.
I’ll get back up from whatever happens with class this semester, pass or fail. It is frustrating to not understand, not succeed, to plain out fail at some challenge set before you. But I’ll get back up. And I’ll lace up my work boots and start kicking down whatever gets in my way.