Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Things We Carry - Tim O'Brien, Next Steps, and Another Story Awaiting To Be Told

I'm in the habit of mentoring.

Actually, I don't think I mentor as much as I listen. I ask questions (I learned that from Sue McV). She was my guiding spirit in Louisville and always coached me to the next steps I'd take. It took me a few years, but I learned after a while that she never offered advice as much as she posed questions to help me find the answer I was looking for.

I try to honor my guide by doing the same to others.

Last night I listened. I heard.

It was a story of a young man who relocated to the United States during his late elementary school years. He did well for a while, but soon took to the streets, its violence, and the trouble it brings. In his sophomore year, however, a woman intervened and began advocating for him. He turned his life around, joined the football team, and began making the grade. He graduated this year with integrity, confidence, and strength.

He was accepted to several colleges and chose one. In fact, we were to drive there on August 29th. Yet, because of the financial choices of a guardian, he didn't qualify for the loans he needed to make it possible. His dream of heading off to college was cut short because his finances wouldn't allow it. Although I offered to co-sign a loan to help him through, he didn't want the burden and wanted to stand on his own two feet.

In his words, "It sucks being poor."

He is patriotic. In fact, his patriotism borders on zealotry. Throughout his college pursuit, his real dream was to join the air force and become a pilot. He still holds onto that dream. When the financial wall hit him, he took a test to get into the Marines. He was told he was the only young man in Bridgeport to qualify and he stopped by last night to share his news. He wanted my approval. More importantly, he wanted me not to be disappointed.

How could I be disappointed?

I realized as a teacher that all the joys I experienced in the classroom as an American were the result of history, conflict, and armed forces. Although my youthful self wanted to believe that such conflicts were evil, unnecessary, and pointless, I learned from a phenomenal history teacher that the concept of one civilization (in our case, an attempt at democracy) is larger than the individuals it serves. The greatest civilizations send their triumphs and their demise to other civilizations. My safety, privilege, and opportunity is a luxury - it arrived because of the sacrifice of so many before me.

Disappointed? Absolutely not.
They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. - Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
Every young man and woman who goes into the military carries heavy burdens. They put their might and strength forward to serve an ideal they believe in. I sometimes wish I had such conviction as an 18-year old, but my life entered the world of pontifications and intellectual meanderings. This, I realize, is a life only made possible because others are willing to carry more.

And that is why I'm proud to know this young man. I've heard his story, know the obstacles that have worked to bring him down, but still he rises and spreads his wings to soar.

I listened. I asked questions. I stand proudly by the decision he has made.

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