This weekend, I graded several pieces from graduate students that asked them to narrate stories in their personal lives that changed their direction for ever. In truth, every second can be such a moment, yet it is the very ones where we stop, do deep soul-searching (and even praying), than end up being the ones that shift our narratives the most. For me, some of them are easy to name. There are others, too, that aren't as clear (perhaps because I haven't looked closely enough at them).
This morning, I am thinking about the very locations that have made me the man that I am right now. There are more than I list right now, but I'm trying to pinpoint (top ten style) the spot where I realized, "something new is coming my way and here is where nothing will be the same again." This post, too, might have been prompted by the season premiere of This Is Us which I finally caught late last night (those writers, man. Wow. They get me with every episode).
- Mr. Finster, 5th grade. I've written about him often, but he remains central to my construct for loving books, writing, and learning. His Roald Dahl-loving fetish, peculiar humor and battle with multiple sclerosis made a tremendous impact on my life and I carry him with me in everything I do.
- Stupidity in 9th grade. I hated the moment and the memory, but I give so much credit to who I am now because of the fact that I was a nincompoop in 9th grade. I carry with me all the vivid memories/transitions of being a child and learning to be an adult from this early period in my life. Jack Daniels. Girls. Friends. Popularity. Idolizing the adult world. Taking chances. Failing. This moment in my life redirected me forever. I could have continued on this path, but chose not to; rather, it became a defining moment always to look back on.
- Departing. When I left CNS, I knew I was going forward with a new pep in my step which, sad to some, included severing the ties to toxic people who I knew would not be healthy to carry forward throughout my life. I learned a lot from my high school days, but something instinctively showed me to believe there was a better world.
- London, 2001. College was spectacular, but moving to London as a 19 year-old was phenomenal. There is nothing about that study abroad experience that I don't cherish, as it shifted all my ways of knowing, my sense of independence, and my understanding of world populations (I feel fortunate to have discovered this early on in life, so I wouldn't get caught up in ignorance, short-sightedness, and Western notions of commercial truths and privilege (ha ha! I was in London, talk about privileged) ideologies.
- Death. Ken, Spencer, Ann E. Rip, and Vera (although Vera came when I was already working and figuring out the adult world some more). Each of them brought to me the love of a grandparent, but also the fragility of life (and its influence on family). I know, for me, it brought me closer to both sides of my family, trying to find a way to savor togetherness despite the distance many of us had between.
- Departing KY, 2007. There are still not words. Ten years later, I am still tuning and hiking with the J. Graham Brown School on my mind. I knew it was Utopia while I was there, and have sensationalized it more since I left. The vision and mission was so clear and, to me, it captured all the joy and mentorship I received while living in Kentucky, including overseas trips to Denmark, working with diverse groups of kids, and an absolute joy for teaching writing. The event I held at the Comedy Caravan, one to support refugees in Louisville, I feel culminated all the love and joy I gained from that city.
- Returning home. There are no words. There is only the blessing that it was. For a short period of time, I got to relearn my family as an adult, to appreciate my parents even more, and to bond with my sisters and their families in ways that I never thought possible. Of course, I didn't have the foresight, but I realize now that every second of securing and developing more of my Syracuse family would be the heart and backbone of everything that is family now.
- The boys in my research who all remain immensely important to the person I am today. They changed my life forever, and although it may not seem normal to outsiders, they became my family and remain central to my life - it will always be this way (as evident from Abu and Lossine's visit this week - I cannot imagine my life without them.
- Chitunga. I realize the first 8 actually lead to the 9th...the greatest truth of my life and the kid who puts everything into perspective for me: emotionally, spiritually, politically, historically, and logically. It's crazy to realize, too, that right now, he's beginning to make connections to the 'life events' that are totally defining who he is. I love him for that.
- The Great Whatever. I've been talking to it since I was in high school and it is a variation of my grandmother's Maude (a fusion of God and Earth). I often have no clue what anything is supposed to mean, but I follow my gut and instincts and everything reveals itself at exactly the right time.
Of course, there are numerous other factors, events, situations, people, conversations, movies, songs, worries, and stories that interplay between each of the 10, but these are the core. It's interesting, but I'm thinking this morning of those I love most and wonder what their 10 would be. Nothing would make me happier than hearing them give me their top ten list, too.
Eeks! It's October already!