Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Fine Balance

This is the New Year, and I have only one resolution: to find, establish, and maintain a fine balance. I feel it is safe to say that balance is something that I’ve needed to incorporate into my life and for the first time in years, perhaps ever, it appears to be attainable.

A lot of things have changed in the last several years… My parents got divorced, which quickly turned into the absolving of ‘family’ as I knew it. Home lost its meaning, I moved out when I was still in high school, and have moved 10+ times since then. I transferred schools, almost gave up what I love, on multiple levels… I’ve had about 15 jobs in the last 5 years, 3 cars, 2 computers, lost all of my documents, pictures, financial records, everything on one of them.. I’ve lost a lot of people I love to both death and other less permanent, more potent, living venom, which packs a different kind of sting.  I have been shaken, broken, and unsettled. A lot of people have hurt me, and I have hurt a lot of people back. I have a lot of scars… but in this life, who doesn’t.

I am learning to wear my scars instead of them wearing me.  It has been a long, painful, draining, but intricate and beautiful transition. I would not change, trade, or go back for anything in my life: good or bad. The trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the darkest nights, are mercies in disguise. It’s taken a while for me to be in a place where I can see that. So, brick by brick I have built up from the floor. My life is a pile shrine of bits and pieces of things that broke me, that through utmost determination, I’ve turned into a stained glass reflection of things that changed me, people who saved me, and unthinkable amazing grace. My family now extends so far beyond blood that I know only where it starts, because from where I’m standing, there is no end.  I am surrounded by angels in disguise, on the daily, who have taught me invaluable lessons about unbridled compassion. I am fortunate to have taken a class called the Creative Process that, thought an unexpected, and currently still unfinished journey, opened my mind and healed my soul in a way that would have otherwise seemed inconceivable. This experience has taught me the value of truly finding myself, who I am in relation to the world around me, and the importance challenging my beliefs to the core. I see with new eyes now, and that is the honest truth. I have met people who have suffered immeasurable tragedy, specifically the parents of Morgan Harrington, who wake up every day determined to fight for justice for their daughter who was brutally murdered, and who’s case, 3 years later, is still unsolved.  They are incredible people, and I hope to help support them and their efforts through involvement with their campaign, Help Save the Next Girl, launched in hopes of creating awareness and preventing this from happening to someone else’s child. That’s right, instead of melding into their tragedy like I did years ago for an offense much less worthy of defeat, they have chosen to ride on the coattails of adversity with unthinkable conviction and beautiful grace. If that doesn’t put your life into perspective, I am sorry for your soul, because I don’t know what will. From them I have learned of a new unconditional kind of love… how to love someone too much, forever, and one more time, but more importantly the kind of love that death cannot sever. I hope to love people that unconditionally. How beautiful is that? How can you love someone or anything more than too much, forever, and one more time? I don’t think its possible. What breaks you down is not the load you carry, it’s all in how you carry it. Mr. and Mrs. Harrington, I salute you. I am finally in a position where I can pay it back because of people who paid it forward and I intend to do so with every day I have, every relationship I invest in, and every breath I take in and let go of for the duration of whatever time I am meant to have on this earth. I have dealt with my ghosts, and I’ve faced all my weaknesses… I still am and will always be rebuilding, but I am closing this chapter and moving on.

The road to self-reliance cannot lie in the past. I have a lot of things to look forward to and I can’t wait to see where the roads that lie ahead will take me. I will tell you that I have relinquished my future to the powers that be, so come hell or high water, I will be where I’m supposed to. There are many things that scare me about ‘unknowns’ but what scares me more, is never taking the chance to explore the ‘what if’s’ behind those ‘unknowns’. I am on a pilgrimage to find my place in this world, but I am not searching for it. Things are falling into place and I have faith that they will continue to do so if I stay true to myself, keep my eyes forward, and my heart wide open. I am not perfect, nor do I want to be, but I know that some things in my life need to change, and they will. Renovation is a slow process, but it will happen. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so from this moment forward I’m shaking him off. I’m not going to keep dragging the past around for those who aren’t willing to let go of it. I’m burying that horse in the ground. That is non-negotiable. This may come as shock to people who won’t expect it, but it must happen. You must take care of yourself in order to take care of anyone or anything else. I can see the bigger picture for the first time in years and I can’t wait to see what begins appearing in the landscape. This is my first step in the journey of a thousand miles. You may laugh and call me a fool, and that’s okay… People throw rocks at things that shine, and I know that, but no river, no lake, and no ocean can put this fire out… I am on a crusade to find a fine balance. I know that the past can only be imperfectly distanced… it’s a slippery thing, slithering into the present through un-repairable cracks, but I know where I am in relation to where I’ve been. I am forever moving forward, and if that means I have to leave things behind to do so, then so be it… I am not sorry.  

And so begins my pilgrimage: I truly believe that it’s an important step to a fulfilled life… a step a lot of people my age explore but don’t always take, but more importantly a step it’s never too late to take. I hope to be the best person I am capable of becoming. I hope to pour myself into my music, my writing, and to be surrounded by colors of the art that I almost gave up entirely. I hope that hard work and perseverance will continue to pay off. I hope to see more clearly, love more unconditionally, and treat everyone I cross paths with, with more compassion. I hope to help create awareness and to help find justice for Morgan. ( Help Save the Next Girl )I hope to find myself deep in the valleys of India and/or the mountains of Napal in the next 365 days learning about myself, awaking my soul eternally, and finding the calm and open mind that is necessary for a healthy body and a peaceful spirit… I hope for those I love to have the best that this world has to offer as they’ve given me nothing short of the same. And I hope, more than anything, to find a fine balance between all of the above and everything in between.

“In the end, I've come to believe in something I call "The Physics of the Quest." A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you."   -Eat, Pray, Love

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die… where you invest your love, you invest your life. 
Out with the old… Cheers to 2012!  


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Art of Prevailing

There is something about the word ‘gunman’ that makes any human shudder, but there’s something about combining that word with two others; ‘on campus’ that makes any Hokie’s stomach drop and heart skip a beat... its the same thing that gives you an odd sense of clarity when you feel as though you might be in trouble… that makes every voice an offender, every knock on the door a threat, every text message twice as important, and every breath much more intentional. There is something about being stormed by a SWAT team that solicits, involuntarily, a new level of unparalleled, and unprecedented fear… Welcome to my Thursday, and the Thursday of many other fearful Hokies last week.

I was on campus for the shooting. I was sheltered, with several other students and faculty members, for a significant time, in the office of Marching Band Director, David McKee. We were shaken by the alert, but hoping for a false alarm. When it became common knowledge that at least one person was dead, it became real and way too close to home. Up on the wall behind Dave’s desk is a picture of Ryan “Stack” Clark, a former Marching Virginian, young, vibrant soul, and the first victim in the April 16th massacre.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room glancing at his picture and thinking to myself, “not again.”
Phones started going off with more intensity as it became obvious that this was anything but a false alarm. One thing I found to be very profound in a moment of crisis: You find out who your friends and family are… real quick. Someone beat on the door of the office, and in seconds Dave had thrown himself in front of it demanding to know who it was and not opening it until he knew it was safe: it was clear that it wasn’t his first rodeo. At that moment, for the entire duration of that tragic event, still now, and forever, that man is/was a hero.

We got moved to the 2nd floor of Squires where we met everyone else who was in the building, realizing quickly that we were not alone, but more importantly, that this was not a test. There had been reports of alleged gunshots outside of our building and instantly we were surrounded by people with guns… The SWAT team herded us all into a larger auditorium. “Go, go, go!” No questions were asked as we did what we were told, tears pouring down the faces of many, myself included. I have been afraid of a lot of things in my twenty-one years on this earth, and while there was never a moment that I genuinely felt unsafe throughout this ordeal, I was absolutely terrified for its entirety. I knew no one was getting through that SWAT team, it was the fact that we were in a position where we needed to be surrounded by them that scared me.
With communication limited, every piece of information and every outgoing message was crucial. I was scanning the news for updates on my computer when I came across a quote from a CNN reporter, “I wonder if Virginia Tech has tracking shooters down to a fine science.” My initial reaction: WE’RE STILL HERE. We’re still on lockdown and THAT’S what you’re going to contribute?!? My second: rot in hell. Third: What kind of pathetic, despicably heartless, shallow human being would say something like that? And right there, still surrounded by the SWAT team, still surrounded by friends and faculty desperately trying to let their loved ones know they’re okay, still, with no news on the status of the gunman and reports of shots all around campus, still terrified, in that very moment, began the art of prevailing. 

It doesn’t take much to get a Hokie to defend Virginia Tech, and it takes even less in the midst of a crisis. Instead of Facebook feed’s just reading “Not again.” and “What is it about that campus.” or “VT.. and the bullets spray again.” I began to see posts reading “We will prevail.” and “Hokies united.” or “Praying for VT and the media personnel who misrepresent it.” I was one of them. I couldn’t fathom the kind of human being who could think otherwise...
-->Sitting in what many would consider the wrong place at the wrong time, I found myself reflecting on being in the right place at the right time. I thought about how lucky I was to have spent an entire semester with the woman, my teacher, Nikki Giovanni, who told us almost four and a half years ago what we know now: “We are Virginia Tech…We will prevail.”  I knew the Hokie Nation was a real entity, but I became more than aware of its size, strength, and ability to endure while sitting in that room surrounded by nothing but fear and uncertainty.

Those are the moments that define us… Not the moment where the trigger was pulled, but the nanosecond after, when thousands of people unite as one. Its the strangers becoming friends, friends becoming family, and family becoming your life support that define us in that moment. That is who we are, and that is what we did. Teachers became our legal guardians, parents if you will. I know one of mine did. I was in constant contact with one of my former teachers, Jane Vance, who picked me up the second the lockdown was lifted, taking me away from campus, and giving me the chance to release the breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding for hours. No stranger to tragedy, this was all too familiar territory for her as well… but we are Virginia Tech, and we take care of each other.

I had the honor and privilege of meeting some very special people in my evening away from campus whose story will have to be one for another day, but I can tell you that in the midst of their own tragedy, they opened their home to ours. They welcomed us, even I, who was a stranger, with open arms and provided a refuge from the day’s events… a shelter from the storm. I wish I could explain to you the magnitude of this experience. They are Virginia Tech, and that is what they do for one another.

We are Virginia Tech, and now more than ever, we must remember who we are. We are more than a crime scene. We are more than a skewed, aired in bad taste news story. We are more than a gunman. We are a school, we are a community, we are a nation... and above any and all things, we are a family and we will always, always prevail. You can't change that, I can't change that, and neither can anyone with a gun.. We ARE Virginia Tech, and we will find the triumph in this tragedy.

So to the reporter who says we are a “snake-bitten campus, and a breeding ground for violence” I rebuke you. To the one who asks if we have “tracking a shooter down to a fine science” how dare you. To the ones who say we’re nothing more than “the campus were you’re most likely to get shot.” That tells me you’ve never stepped foot into Blacksburg… I am sad that you clearly have no one close enough to you to realize that family extends well beyond the blood that binds it. To Westboro Baptist Church, you are despicable and make me absolutely sick to my stomach... we are better than you, and we'll prove it. Not only will you be greeted by thousands of Hokies prepared to shelter the loved ones of fallen Officer Crouse, you’ll be driven out of town by the sheer magnitude of our unity. We are Virginia Tech, you mess with one, you get us all. Bring it on…I dare you. To News Channel 7 who refuses to cover Westboro’s picketing, I salute you and commend your lack of publicizing these imbeciles. But to the Hokie Nation, I thank you. I thank you for standing by us, for your outpouring of prayers, and for your stoic support in the face of ridicule, adversity, and tragedy.

Say what you want about Virginia Tech, but this says it all without saying a word.

We ARE Virginia Tech, and THIS is how we PREVAIL.

            Hokie Pride forever and always, always and forever.