Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Life Is Knocking," Grace Williams

“Life Is Knocking”
Grace Williams

Thoughts: Do I have to get up? Is there any possible way out? Can I quit? Why can I not just go home? Is there a way to get out of bed and not go home?

Words: “Grace, go get in the shower! Get up. Walk to the shower. Step one.”

I slowly inch out the bed. My neck hurts, my back hurts, and my head hurts, but more than anything, my heart hurts. However, I am out of bed; I am alive. That counts for something, does it not? I shower, brush my teeth, and look in the mirror:

Thoughts: Don’t drive home. Just don’t drive home. Don’t quit. Quitting won’t fix the pain.

Words: “Grace, you can do this. You are alive. You are blessed. You will be okay. Look how far you have gotten. You can do it.”

September 23, 2011, I drove home from school to spend the weekend with my family. I arrived around 2 o’clock; I sat at our kitchen table with my dad and discussed how school was and where I thought I would be six months from now. Then, I spent a few hours driving around town with my best friend, Nathan. However, really, I was just buying time for when my mom would come home. A few hours later, her white Toyota Highlander pulled into the driveway. My cowboy boots and I skipped out to meet her. She eased out of the car and wrapped her arms around me. Being so consumed in the celebration of seeing her I did not notice that my mom seemed to be moving a little slower than normal. We stood there for a moment just embracing each other and enjoying being able to spend some time together. As we walk into the house my mom subtly says she does not feel well, but the complaint is tied with the pretty little bow—“I’m glad you’re home.”

Fast-forward 48 hours. I arrive at the hospital as quickly as I could. Her blood pressure is 60 over 40. They are admitting my mom into the hospital. She has a kidney infection that has spread to her whole body.

I spend the week sleeping in the hospital as my mom curls into a ball of pain and cries. I watch her become sick due to the intensity of the pain. I listen to her moan through the night due to the excruciating pain resonating through her whole body. I watch doctors drop the ball, and nurses forgetting what it looks like to treat their patients with a sense of care and urgency. I see my mom fall apart, and then after one week, I load my car and drive back to school.

Knock, knock, knock.
Grace: Come in.
Katie: Hey! I’m glad you’re back! What’s up?
Grace: Uhh…nothing really.
Katie: Wanna come study with me? Do you have a lot of work to make up?
Grace: Um, I don’t really think I’m going to do any work. Not today.
Katie: Do you not have a lot of work to make up?
Grace: I’m sure I do.
Katie: Well, why aren’t you going to do it?
Grace: I’m just struggling. I don’t want to be here. My heart is just not in it.
Katie: Well, like I know it’s hard, but I just don’t think you should give up. I mean I know you don’t feel like it, but you just got to get motivated, even if it’s just to hang out with people, ya know?
Grace: Uhh, yea sure. I’ll work on that for you.
Katie: OK, GREAT!

On the drive back to school, I fought the doubts and questions that arose: Did school really matter? Was my family not more important than my grades? How could I come back? I wanted to turn around, but I did not, though I am unsure what urged me forward. I pulled up, took a deep breath, and then walked back into Gambrell 300. A battle had just been waged, and I had triumphed, but as I greeted the girls with tears in my eyes, I saw that my effort counted for nothing more than an event in the past; it was time to move forward and get back into the Furman rhythm.

My sorority sisters and fellow hall-mates, just like Katie, loved me, missed me, and wanted to see me, but as much as they truly cared for me, they did not feel the pain in my heart, or the brokenness in my soul, nor did they see the reality that had just slapped me in the face. My mother getting sick was the past in the eyes of my Furman friends, but through my eyes, I was still living out the consequences. Life was all about college in their minds: wake up, drink a cup of coffee, arrive early to class, smile and wave as you pass familiar faces, take detailed notes, head to the library where you spend the afternoon digging in your books, walk to dinner and talk about how stressed you are and what all there is to do in such a short amount of time, head back to the library to continue studying, leave for a sorority meeting, journey to the hall to hang out for a little bit, and then call it a night so you can be productive for the next day.

While living each day completely mapped out in our Lilly Pulitzer calendars may inevitably lead to the surplus of achievements that these students are seeking—the American Dream, my question that arises is what happens when just picking up each foot to slowly descend out of bed takes all you have? What happens when your mom is in the hospital, and your heart is breaking every moment not spent with her? What happens when you get mono and physically don’t have the energy to put on the smiles and work all day long? What happens when you get pneumonia and have to withdraw from school? What if you’re not strong enough to pick yourself up, put on a smile, and push through?

I agree that quitting is not the answer when life knocks you around, but I also believe that smiling and acting as though you are not hurting or dealing with monumental amounts of stress or pain is not the answer either.  Seasons of life will require you to push through, but, also, each one of us must learn to say it’s okay for me to rest.

When my mom went into the hospital I had two choices: go back to school where I am supposed to be, or I could stay at home and be with my mom. Choice one meant the possibility of being penalized, falling behind in my work, and maybe receiving a lower grade in the class. Furman is filled with false knowledge about how a lower grade will affect your life: A lower grade means a lower G.P.A. A lower G.P.A. means possibly not being accepted into the top law school. Not being received into the top law school means probably not finding a job where you make a secure income with benefits. Not finding a your dream job means you cannot support a family. Ultimately, if you don’t have a great degree, with a secure job, and a family to provide for then what is life? This lie begins the never-ending cycle driven by the mindset that if you go off course, you fail and to fail is to not have a joyful life.

Furman is a school filled with incredibly successful, brilliant, and smart professors and incredibly successful, brilliant, and smart students. The two encourage one another: the professor demands and challenges their students while the students spend their days stressing, studying, and striving to not only meet but exceed the professor’s expectations. Together, the professors and students set a standard, a mindset, and a culture that is cultivated; a culture that revolves around the mindset that life is college, at least for this season. The goal of our life is to come to class, study all day, and make good grades. We, also, must be doing extracurricular activities that will show we are gaining experience serving, leading, and socializing. We must fill our resume with accomplishments, leadership skills, and academic opportunities.  Without building ourselves up with these extracurricular activities, we will never succeed. The goal is to continually be striving towards perfection. Perfection as the standard for our lives is an inherited mindset—parent to student, professor to student, and, especially at Furman, student to student.

From birth, the American society idolizes academic achievement and claims that when, at 18 years old, we arrive at college, our lives should suddenly revolve around school; life is college. However, that is like claiming that my mother is my mother and that is the only part of her that exists; her life should revolve around that role. While, yes, my mother is my mom, she is defined by so much more than just that role in her life. The mother that she is to me is a different mom than she is to Lea, or Bethany, or Meg, or Jodi. Furthermore, Amy Williams is a real estate investor. Amy Bowie Williams is a daughter to her mother and father. Mrs. Williams is a wife. Amy is a breast cancer survivor. Little Amy is a sister to her brother and sisters. Miss Amy is an aunt. Mimi Amy is a grandmother. Dear Amy is a friend.  Each role my mother takes on is a part of her, each with a different level of priority in her life but no less part of her.

College is the same. It is a part of life, but it is not life, not even for a season of time should college be given the honor of being the center of your life; it is a part, end of story. If I had believed the lie that college is life, then when my mom became deathly ill, college would have claimed the more important spot, and Furman is where I would have remained while my mom lie in the hospital close to death. Is that even slightly rational? Reading this one would immediately claim of course not, but that is not how we live at Furman.

We constantly battle in our minds whether we have the time to invest in people or instead make a good grade: Should I stay at home with my sick mother or go back to school so I do not get penalized? We face questions daily concerning the priorities in our life, and we do not even realize the domino effect one decision can make. Will we choose the friend who we know is struggling or focus on our own stress about the psychology exam tomorrow? Furman indirectly preaches—moreover, the American society preaches— that failure is to make a bad grade, so ultimately, we choose to study. We choose a thing over a person, and all because we believe that if we fail, we will never reach the place we belong, but where are we supposed to be? Who said we are supposed to live one exact, perfect, right way? Who determines the way we live our lives?

Right now, life is happening. It is not after college that life begins, or once you have a job, or once you are married, or once you start a family. Life is now; in this very moment, each one of us is living the life we create or do not create, whichever we choose. Life can be embraced or neglected, loved or ignored, cherished or forgotten, but however one chooses to live, life is progressing forward. My question is: Are you living your life?

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