It’s the classic story: a college-aged man runs away and goes on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
Actually, this isn’t one of those stories at all, far from it.
My job in Wabash College’s Communications Office has led me to some interesting places. My work has taken me to a worn-out ball park in Crestwood, Illinois (ever heard of Crestwood, Illinois? Don’t kid yourself; you haven’t. It’s one of many suburbs of Chicago), a baseball diamond that literally exists in a whole in the ground, and even to a summer working in the office during which I actually did learn a great deal about myself. But this destination was a very different one and with completely different experiences and therefore different lessons.
Lesson 1: Wabash Athletes are Awesome
I wasn’t alone on this journey. I went with my boss, an athletic trainer, and a team of lacrosse players.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Wabash is an NCAA Division III school. This is a school that intentionally stays very small because of the culture of the college. I feel very fortunate to be at a school with this culture. While it is a myth that everybody knows everybody else, the people you meet have lasting impacts.
Now, because of the culture of Wabash: that being very small and all-male, a huge proportion of students are also athletes. I’ve had classes with student-athletes from every sport on offer, but this is the first experience I’ve ever had spending a weekend with a team. While I may not identify with them on their artistic tastes (especially regarding movies. Don’t feel bad guys, I acknowledge that I’m very picky when it comes to movies), they are a fun group of guys and the relationship they share is much more evident. Wabash is often described as a brotherhood, but in a microcosm like a varsity team, I think their brotherhood is even stronger.
The second thing I learned from these guys is they handle stress a lot better than most. There’s a stigma that college athletes are dumb or that their college allows to skimp their classes. While I know both of these are true in some cases and less than 100% of athletes I’ve had class with are geniuses, I cannot argue that Wabash athletes have brilliant time-management skills. Yes, Wabash competes in a fairly small conference, only spanning from the northeast of Pennsylvania to some school to the south of Crawfordsville, but when you remember that they travel via internet equipped buses and they often lose a day of class every other week (or more) for the majority of a semester, these guys truly amaze me. I make a point of never missing class (unless I get sick on literally the first day of the semester because that’s just my luck. Yes; that happened). And the reason why I never miss class is a simple one: I would fall behind. In fact, I spent a lot of time on the drive down and back reading and writing, with only the last few hours devoted to writing this blog. In short, I couldn’t do what these guys do, so I have, truly, the utmost respect for these Little Giants.
I’ve heard that Wabash is sometimes called “the Harvard of the West” and I think that’s with good reason. Academic rigor is the standard at Wabash, so when I think about those guys who play even one sport, I can’t help but admire them. These guys know nothing is given to them and they can’t “get away” with anything: they’re just like everyone else.
To that point, I need to say that though I was the invader in this circle of lacrosse players, I never felt excluded. They all welcomed me (or at least pretended to) into, well, their world, really. Some of them had an interest in my work and what I do on the Game Day Staff. While I don’t have nearly the understanding of their sport I wish I had, I am taking the time to learn it, which I genuinely think they appreciate. To Coach Richardson and all his guys, thank you. I had a great time spending this time with you. Congrats on the win and here’s to many more!
Lesson 2: The World is an Amazing Place
This something I have always believed and it is a thought that goes through my head whenever I travel, especially when I get out of Indiana (which isn’t nearly often enough). From Crawfordsville to Memphis, I saw some wonderful–and some less-wonderful–scenery. I had never been to Memphis before this weekend, so seeing something completely new was a tremendous pleasure.
When my family visited Branson, Missouri after my seventh-grade year (a vivid memory: that was the summer I broke my wrist playing soccer of all things and I wore a brace on my right hand) we crossed the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Seeing the Gateway Arch was special to me because I had read the Percy Jackson books in seventh grade and anyone who has knowledge of the first book knows how important the Gateway Arch is. Busch Stadium also became the first Major League Baseball stadium I would ever see (I’ve since seen the Chicago White Sox’ park, the Milwaukee Brewer’s park, and the Atlanta Brave’s park (fun fact, the Braves relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta, for anyone who didn’t know)).
The reason I say all that is twofold: first, we crossed the Mississippi twice more, once crossing into Arkansas (the first time I’ve been in that state), and the second going from Missouri into Illinois. The second reason is because I got my first close-up view of an NBA arena: the Memphis Grizzlies’ FedEx Forum. Both of these reminded me of my childhood in a way: reminded me of simpler times.
Next, I thought about the wonders of America’s infrastructure. The fact I could get in a car in Portland, Maine and drive to Portland, Oregon without ever driving on a dirt road is incredible to me. The way overpasses weave themselves into a tapestry over the land is nothing less than a miracle of engineering. Interstate travel is truly amazing to me. It’s a simple pleasure brought to us by vast understanding of math and physics–two areas that are, frankly, far too complex for my way of thinking. For all this, I thank President Eisenhower, the engineers, and the workers who made it happen.
Lesson 3: Reading History is Important, but go to Where History Happened if You Can.
So, I wrote a post a while ago in which I lamented that I didn’t know what I was going to study and how I was starting to feel the pressure from that. I am happy to say that I have since declared my major, my minor, and I may add a second minor down the road. I am officially a Rhetoric major and a History minor (I’m considering an English minor, if you’re interested).
Anyway, to the point.
I always remember the tragedy of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s assassination by U2’s song “Pride.” If you’ve heard “Pride,” you likely know where I’m going with this.
Early morning, April four.
Shot rings out, in the Memphis sky.
Free at Last! They took your life,
They could not take your Pride!”
I’m sitting on the lacrosse bus feeling my eyes water a little (and now that I’m editing about nine hours later, they still do). Dr. King’s life has always had great meaning to me, but now it means even more.
We stopped for dinner at a Memphis barbecue joint simply called Central BBQ. And this story proves, yet again, that truth is stranger than fiction. What historical landmark just so happens to be catty-corner to Central BBQ? Nothing other than the infamous Lorraine Motel–where Dr. King was assassinated. What stands there now is the National Civil Rights Museum. The motel still stands, though, and the only difference is the replica cars parked in front of room 306. I feel this is a sacred place, so I will not try to describe the impact with words. Here are some pictures I took at the museum:
I know I just threw a lot at you, but it was a lot for me, too. There simply aren’t words I can say that would do justice to Dr. King’s life and his everlasting influence. But what I want to say is that we can read all about history for days on-end, but what I’ve learned on this trip is that history can come alive when we have the chance to see it. I feel very fortunate to have visited this hallowed site because it really did make history come alive for me. I would have never forgotten Dr. King, but now this place has been imprinted on my mind. That’s something only going to a historical place can do. So if you ever find yourself in Memphis, go to the National Civil Rights Museum; if you ever go to New York, go to Ground Zero; if you’re ever in Boston, go to the Boston Harbor; if you’re ever in San Antonio, Remember the Alamo. There are great stories everywhere and it’s our job to find them.
I close with a simple belief: wherever you go, find the lessons those places have to tell. It’s a big world out there with so many places and so much history. Every city, every road, and, most importantly, every person has a story to tell. We need only find those stories and find their meaning. If we can do that, we can build a world of people who understand each other and a community of people who want to learn.