Time and People Matter
Sitting in Major Duckett’s highschool ethics class, I listened to a sage. His bellicose uniform honored beloved brothers of battle and memories. He paced in prudent panoply of exhilarating experience. Major Duckett tested our limits leaving us stranded on desert islands, swinging samurai swords, fighting hellish battles, and walking in the masses of Ghandi’s peace march. His humorous, but strikingly pensive eyes stretched our self-centered seventeen-year-old minds daring us to delve into the unknown. The 65-year-old man dived into danger skydiving, parachuting, and living each day with purpose. The last day of class Major Duckett silenced the room draining his humor-filled eyes to seriousness. He stared at us as if he was staring into our souls and said, “TIME and PEOPLE matter…if you walk out of my class only learning that, I will have done my job.”
I pondered Major Duckett’s words for about ten seconds, shoved my books in my bag, and then rushed out the door to my next class.
I was a junior at Culver Academies, a coed boarding school divided into a boy’s military school and girl’s academy. Students came from all walks of life traveling from Mexico, England, South Africa, and China to seize service, leadership, academic, and athletic opportunities. The typical Culver student doesn’t casually stroll to class or meetings, but plows through unwanted traffic having not quite discovered the purpose of sidewalks. In the Culver bubble, free time is nonexistent because everything is scheduled. Dinner could be free time, but Culver students are overachievers and often rush to multiple meetings conveniently occurring at the same time. I was a typical Culver student mindlessly obeying the rules.
If I were brushing my teeth at 10:46 instead of 10:45, my short and stocky dorm mom would waddle down the hall scolding me for not being in bed. My day consisted of breakfast, academics, lunch, more academics, scheduled work out time, dinner/meetings, two-hour homework time, and occasionally sleep. I interpreted the schedule literally lacking time to just be and enjoy. To Major Duckett, my lifestyle was pathetic.
During my summer at Interlochen’s six-week vocal artist camp, I began to understand Major Duckett’s words. My voice teacher warned me about overanalyzing everything and said, “Mary, do me a favor and just absorb.”
I absorbed an artistically enriching and aesthetically pleasing environment wasting no time. In just six short weeks, I developed lifetime friendships. While I practiced, sang passionately, laughed, listened, and developed without fearing failure or a daunting grade, my grandma suffered pushed from nursing homes to hospice care to hospitals. My family suffered together and I suffered alone unable to comfort them. I heard Major Duckett state firmly, “TIME and PEOPLE matter.” I was blessed with my time at Interlochen and its people. My friends Aaron and Jess patiently listened during times I suffered for my grandma and family. In Interlochen’s presence and people I felt peace.
After six weeks, I abhorred leaving my source of peace and reluctantly slouched into the car seat next to my dad. Just as we were about to drive out of the parking lot, my dad received a phone call from my uncle. My grandma insisted the doctors unplug her ventilator. My dad and I drove panicking driving through Michigan’s towering, verdant pine trees to Indiana’s unending cornfields. I dried my tears shoving my PIDS (Post Interlochen Depression Syndrome) aside and held his hand in the car and at the hospital.
The shadowy, wraithlike veneer hid her usual jovial expression like a shroud. Her arms were covered with dark purple bruises. The thick, beautiful, brown hair my brother, sister, and I used to playfully style with was thinned and not combed. Her sweet, gentle voice struggled gasping for air to form syllables. My grandma’s admirable ability to patiently listen was decimated in a sea of suffering and medication. For almost an hour, my dad and I sat listening to her drift in and out of short bursts of conversation and snoring. The sound of her oxygen tank pierced my ears.
Major Duckett’s advice created an uneasy feeling in my stomach punching me with regret. I could see “TIME and PEOPLE matter” written on the ceiling of my grandma’s hospital room. My mom often suggested I visit her. My mom would say, “Mary, she’s not going to be around forever, and you can walk to her house.”
I would always reply, “Mom, that’s an awful thing to say,” failing to accept the truth. I made excuses like having to study for tests, service projects, homework overload, and social events at school. When in reality, the time I wasted Facebooking, texting, online shopping, and listening to music, I could have spent talking to my grandma, enjoying her humor, wisdom, and kindness. In the hospital, her taciturn voice intensified my regret. I wanted time back to be with her.
To our surprise, one month later my grandma was living at home, driving, and visiting her horse. Instead of visiting her, I allowed Culver’s time trap to torture me with college apps, leadership positions, and schoolwork. Once again, I lived a life where time and people didn’t matter, but senior spring served as a wake up call.
I wanted to fast forward through graduation, but also wanted to press pause.
I stood dressed in white amidst the panoply of graduation celebrating girls in white floor length dresses and boys wrapped in colorful sashes and metals. I wasn’t a girl standing on the sideline watching her upper classmen transition from childhood to adulthood. The arch separated us from them ultimately signifying the separation from life at Culver to our future. As a member of Culver Girl’s Academy’s senior class, I walked perfectly to Culver band’s cadence planting my feet in front of our head of schools, Mr. John Buxton.
My friend Jacque and I exchanged anxious, but excited glances watching each girl pass through the arch receiving her diploma from Mr. Buxton, shaking the Dean of Girl’s hand, and finally passing through the arch. I quickly glanced into the crowd and saw my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, and two grandparents, but not my grandma. My heart sunk noticing her empty presence. The academic dean called, “Mary McKinnis, Honors in Music.” I stepped forward taking my diploma, shook the Dean of Girl’s hand, and joined my classmates. I was a Culver alum and adult now. My days of kilts, nametags, knee socks, and time-consuming schedules were over!
After the thrill of graduation, my dad mumbled, “I hate to tell you this after all your accomplishments this past weekend, but Grandma’s not doing well.” He explained it was up to me if I wanted to visit her or not. I didn’t visit scarred from her past suffering in the hospital.
I rejoiced reminiscing on our last memory together during my senior recital. In her royal red suit, she radiated with joy. I received her joyful rays with gratitude for her powerful presence. My grandma sacrificed her health to happily support me. After my recital, I promised to visit her, but I never did. I could have gone to visit her many times, but I blamed school. Now I realize, I was too busy chasing ambitions to realize her significance in my life. Three days after graduation, my grandma passed away. My mom and dad slowly inched towards the porch silencing the obnoxious girl chatter between my sister and I. My dad said softly, “Grandma passed away peacefully this afternoon.” While my sister and mom broke into tears, I just sat there numb.
A week passed and our house was filled with plants, sympathy cards, and food. My graduation party felt like a vicious cycle of hopping on the celebration train, crashing into a funeral procession, and hopping back on. Guests congratulated me, but also offered their sympathy. I felt torn. I celebrated. I lamented. How could I be happy when my grandma just died, but how could I not be happy because I just graduated? Wouldn’t she want me to be happy? I thought of Major Duckett’s words. The poignant connection between Culver, Interlochen, and my grandma’s recent death . While during my ambition driven junior year Major Duckett’s words were worthless to me, now his words resonate with me. His theory isn’t one to be practiced only at six-week summer camps or neglected to reach ambitions in a time demanding environment. Time is merely a measurement without people to celebrate, lament, and experience it with.