Monday, April 23, 2012

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

Pathetic that I haven’t sat down to complete an entry in over three months, but nevertheless, I have returned. I have returned because I have reached my max capacity intake of any and all things but more so because this is the only way I know I will successfully process all of the below as reality. Fact: this is how I clear my head, but today, this serves the dual purpose of a major reality check. I’m going to present this in synopsis form simply because, as much as this would serve as an amazing story line, I don’t have the time to write a novel. Fair warning, it’s a long one, but I give you my word: it’s worth it.

One year ago, I took a class called The Creative Process taught by Jane Lillian Vance. It encouraged me to challenge myself to seek a deeper understanding of all things I encounter, endure, and embrace, while teaching me to enable unbridled empathy and compassion towards everyone I meet along that way. I have taken that to heart perhaps more than I should, but as you continue reading, I invite you to be the judge of that.

Eight months ago, my life turned into a complete crap-storm of one burden, loss, and hurdle after another. In passing, I reached out to this former teacher, who I had still remained in contact with, and got a response that was a lesson of a lifetime: “So you’ve lost a lot. You’re slate has been wiped cleaner than most people could ever imagine Don’t let the smoke from the old house follow you into the new one.” That became my new golden rule.

Six months ago, I stopped in Charlottesville on my way home from the Virginia Music Educator’s Association Conference just because -- I didn’t need gas, I wasn’t stopping to see anyone, I just pulled off the exit and by the time I got to the bottom of the ramp, I didn’t quite know why I was there. I drove, getting ready to turn around totally dumbfounded, and realized I knew where I was. I was headed toward the Copely Bridge. This is where the memorial plaque for Morgan Harrington, a former VT student who was abducted and murdered in October 2009, was placed. I knew this because Ms. Vance had told me her story – a story that had ended tragically and much too soon. I left a flower on the bridge, almost selfishly thanked God I was able to visit this in her honor instead of it being the other way around, and left but I couldn’t let it go.

Four months ago I met Morgan’s parents on a day campus was locked down because a gunman had opened fire and had shot and killed a police officer. Fancy meeting them under those circumstances. Morgan, their daughter, had been Ms. Vance’s student. It was with Ms. Vance, who had since, for multiple reasons, become family to the Harrington’s, that I fled from the campus that day after the lockdown was lifted for the safe-haven of a gallery presentation in Roanoke and post presentation glass of wine at the home of Dan and Gil Harrington. I was greeted with open arms, hot food, and unbelievably selfless kindness and concern. Instantly I was saying to myself, “I don’t know how these people get up in the morning, much less, treat me -- a complete stranger ten minutes ago -- with such open compassion.” That was a reality check in and of itself, but what came as much more of an eye opener was this: I knew they had launched a campaign in response to their daughters murder called Help Save The Next Girl, but what I hadn’t quite put together was that the ‘next girl’ that they were fighting to save could easily be me. I was stunned by the common ground I had so effortlessly found with people who were otherwise complete strangers only moments before. They were on a crusade to do everything they could to keep this from happening to another daughter, wife, sister, friend to you, to me, to anyone. If they, after losing SO much, were going to fight for those spared such tragic loss, I believe it is our responsibility to join them in giving a voice to those that have been forcibly silenced so speak out, we did.
Three and a half months ago, at the end of January, Ms. Vance and a few students who had known Morgan gathered with Karen Kiley of WDBJ 7 who had picked up a line I had dropped about Hokie Compassion in response to the shooting in December. We talked about Morgan’s story and how we, as VT students and faculty, see the dire importance in creating positive legacy and to exemplify Virginia Tech, not as a place of tragedy, but as a brilliantly vibrant, safe community full of solutions: Help Save The Next Girl could be a part of that solution and so it began.
Three months ago, we founded VT Help Save The Next Girl. To say we hit the ground running would be the understatement of the year. I have no real sense of time since this began. The students who had gathered for the news story became my right and left hand as we power-housed through the initial stages of launching an official on-campus organization. In no time, we had meetings, university approved logos, all the info flyers we could imagine, business cards, bracelets, t-shirts, etc and these students, who I had known no longer than a week when we teamed up had transformed effortlessly and unconsciously into family. The story was all over the news, all over Facebook, and had become a movement on campus with unstoppable momentum. I need to take a moment to give a shout-out to my friends, who have absolutely blown me away with their support. I love you all for seeing the importance of this and for helping me carry this message. You ALL give me hope. 

Two months ago, with no problem at all, we obtained the endorsement of a couple of the biggest names at VT: Head Football Coach Frank Beamer, and Head Basketball Coach Seth Greenberg. They both, without blinking an eye, threw their full support behind our efforts, exemplifying the university motto of Ut Prosim: That I May Serve, at its finest. They each produced PSA’s endorsing our efforts and offered to be of any service we could ask for or imagine. Frank Beamer cried the moment he met Gil as she and Jane presented him with a picture of The Hunted, a painting she did in Morgan’s honor. He later said, “What you’re doing is important. This is why my heart belongs to Hokie Nation, you have my full support.” Two weeks later, when we went to meet with Coach Greenberg, we ran into Coach Beamer. He said hello in passing and then stopped, turned with purpose and pride while pulling up his shirtsleeve to reveal that his bracelet was still on his wrist. THAT is why MY heart belongs to Hokie Nation. Thank you, Coach Beamer, I will never forget that moment.

One month ago VT Help Save The Next Girl participated in Take Back The Night as our first sanctioned group event. The turnout was remarkable. We had over 50 people representing VT HSTNG that night. To observe Dan and Gil there and able to see that SO many people came in honor of Morgan was one of the proudest moments of my life. We remember and so do so many others. I was given the opportunity to address the crowd gathered that night and found myself so thankful to see my friends there in the crowd. One of the key points I made that night was how important it is to refrain from wearing the false mask of invincibility – it could have been me, it could have been them. But it wasn’t and so they were there, joining me and VT Help Save The Next Girl in taking back the night.

 VT Help Save The Next Girl at Take Back The Night

Three weeks ago we filmed a national spot for the Help Save The Next Girl Foundation. The PSA was done beautifully and has the potential to mean huge things for this cause as a whole. There are so many brilliantly talented people coming together to bring forth this message that I can’t help but think that this is going to be a bigger movement than any of us could have hoped for or imagined.

Two weeks ago one of my two vital jobs for the summer fell through entirely worst timing ever. The financial strain of this past semester with car trouble, unexpected bills, etc has been astronomical, so this was absolutely the last thing I needed. But, this seems to be what always happens just as soon as I think I’m on the right track, I realize I’m on the wrong train.  I quickly came to terms with the fact that this means another 4-job summer on top of grad classes and started looking for another job or two to replace what had fallen through. Story of my life.

 My new boss is a rockstar. The end.

One week ago, that all changed. I was offered a job with a rock star of a publicist, Stephanie Koehler of SAKintermedia who is the publicist for the Help Save The Next Girl foundation and for my former teacher and artist, Jane Lillian Vance. I suppose the work I’d been doing with VT HSTNG had been half decent, because as much as I couldn’t believe it was real life, she was totally serious. Not only do I have a better job than I could have ever hoped for, its possible that this job, singularly, could be the stepping stone I have so desperately longed for to get out of this multi-job nightmarish schedule. I genuinely feel like it’s too good to be true, but it IS real life, and I am so eternally humbled and grateful for this opportunity.

Five days ago, at the April 16th candlelight vigil I had the real opportunity to reflect on just how far everything had come, how many doors have opened, and how inconceivably lucky I am to be a part of so many incredible things. I was reminded of how valuable each fragile life is and was instantly overwhelmed with the gratitude I felt to be right where I was at that very moment.

Two days ago, I had a similar feeling of overwhelming gratitude at my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding, standing in total awe of the company I was surrounded by. Emerson is the most caring, compassionate, authentic, selfless, loving, anti-stereotype guy that I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He also just so happens to be the son of my teacher, Jane Vance. Oops. Oh, the ties that bind us all. ;) That day was a fairytale full of incredible people I now absolutely consider to be a vital part of my ever-expanding family. I learned so much about life in that one day. I learned that blood is not always thicker than water, but that, when push comes to shove, you find what you’re made of and you build yourself some character. I learned, reinforced rather, that it takes much more than death to tear love apart and that just because you’ve been robbed of one joy you cant allow sorrow and despair to infiltrate the possibility of ever having it again. I learned that it is important to give what you can, even when it’s not much, because the little things DO matter. I learned that opportunity absolutely comes when you least expect it and often in a form you never could have imagined being possible. In direct conjunction with all those things, I learned about the importance of fearlessness. 

Family friend, Jenna Swann talked in her toast about the fearlessness she’s always seen in Iris. I am so inspired by her. I want to be the kind of daughter, sister, friend, and now, wife that Iris has been, is, and always will be, by living and loving fearlessly. I want to see the world with the fearlessness of my teacher, now, lifelong friend, Jane. I want to love with the fearlessness Emerson exemplifies daily. I want to teach with the fearlessness of my band director who was honestly been a huge inspiration to me. I want to embrace and uplift others compassionately with the fearlessness I see sewn between not just some, but ALL of my friends. I want to persevere with the fearlessness, strength, and resolve of Dan and Gil Harrington. I want to work with the fearlessness of Stephanie Koehler who takes on the world like its nothing. I want to inspire fearlessly like my teacher, David Widder, who absolutely refuses to give up on me even and especially when I give up on myself. I want to learn fearlessly from my parents who really did do the best they could for as long as they could.

I want to speak out fearlessly, I want to make a difference fearlessly, I want to cultivate change and compassion fearlessly and I think its possible that I’ve found myself exactly where I need to be to do that. This has not been an easy road; in fact it’s been quite the opposite. I’ve hurt, I’ve struggled and I’ve fought like hell to make to the side that had the mere potential for green grass, but I’m here now and in the end, that’s all that matters. I have rocked the boat on some fronts, and I know it but sometimes you just have to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing, even if it means standing alone; all the while loving those who leave you behind or those you have to leave behind anyway. A great quotation from The Shack comes to mind: “I know that most of our hurt comes through relationships but so does our healing, and that grace often times doesn’t make sense to those who remain on the outside looking in.”

I am traveling at warp speed, but I can so clearly see everything coming together as if it were slow motion Do you see it? Everything is so perfectly intertwined, not tangled, but interlocking with purpose and passion. Never have I ever been as happy as I am at this very moment There are so many incredible opportunities in sight that I can’t quite process them all as possibilities, but they are there, and I am beyond thrilled to see where it is that this journey is trying to take me. I’m not sure when I got to be so lucky, but I am so grateful.

For those of you loyal readers, I believe I’ve found my fine balance; this is really starting to feel like home. Not all those who wander are lost. 

Love fearlessly.