Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Mirror Moment: Clemson in the Rear View

S6 of LOST relied heavily on the motif of mirror moments as a metaphor for people looking back on their lives after they had died. I don't think you should only look at yourself then. Yes, what happened, happened, what's done is done, but it's important to consider whether you take pride in or are disappointed with the way your life was/is going.

When we're young, checkpoints are easy to come by. Society tells us when they are, certain ages, certain "rites of passage," pretty much every school year. The older we get, the less frequent these checkpoints are, especially once you've gone through most of the "rites of passage" (not necessarily talking about myself here...I'm also thinking Checkpoints might be a good name for a show, maybe about a NASCAR driver or NASCAR fan culture). Fortunately for me, right now is one such mirror moment. I am closing another chapter in my life, one that has immensely amazing for me.

Clemson, I fell in love with you. You seduced me with your simplicity and saccharine sweetness. I studied all week and watched football on Saturday and Sunday. Everyone was generally pleasant and affable. The contrast from where I was from was a welcome one. I'll never forget the first couple days when I was here and I crossed the street when no one did. The don't walk sign was up, but there was no traffic coming, so I did what any good Northerner did. That was when I realized it was different down here.

Then I fell in love with the world. Despite everything that was being taught to me, that had been taught to me, I had the mental wherewithal to reject what I knew to be untrue and continue to seek the answers...and I found them. I finally understand. I know what the world is about. I know the meaning of life. They always said the question was impossible to answer. I mean, it's 42 right? But it's not. It has an answer. I'm not saying I know everything. There are many things I have only passing knowledge of or am ignorant of. I am saying that you can know the meaning of life. You just have to look for it.

Then I became disenchanted with you, Clemson. I earned my MA. My eight hour Saturdays writing my thesis in the library were over. I poked my head up and didn't like what I saw. Teaching college, paradoxically, granted me more free time than studying in college did, and I use that time to venture into the social world. What I discovered was homogeneity, more than any burgeoning Emo kid or "non-conformist" could ever complain about up North. It went deeper than any fad, style, or physical appearance. It was an attitude."I'm ok, you're ok." An accepting of the status quo. A lack of desire for improvement, let alone self improvement. A lack of that something extra that put you over the top, that killer instinct.

Sure, the North is full of self hating and bitter people, but I often think it's a bad thing that people in Clemson probably can't even fathom that level of passion about life, either way. It's cool. It's all taken care of.

Strangely, what pushed me over the edge about this town was Oliver Purnell resigning as the men's basketball coach out of nowhere. What was the result? Nothing. No one got fired up, in either direction. Another mediocre coach was hired. It was like Tommy Bowden all over again. What was inherently obvious to me after only a month here, that Bowden had to go, took three full years before enough people kind of clamored about it enough for it to happen. Then who was he replaced with? More of the same, basically. Why? There's no killer instinct. Win or lose, the money comes in, the support is the same. I'm not saying stop being fans. I'm saying what it means to be a fan changes based upon context.

Context is a big thing I learned, mostly through the Patriots. Sure, they won their championships while I was at Ithaca, but that time still seems like a dream, a myth that game them their legacy. My time in Clemson felt like their championship era. They've won a lot of games. They went 16-0, 18-0, 18-1 in devastating fashion (still have to give props to Tyree for that catch). They didn't win any championships, but it didn't matter. They're winners now. They have that legacy. More is expected from them. Great things are expected. And that's exactly how I feel.

I'm a winner now. I expect great things from me. I can't accept mediocrity or worse any longer. I've seen the Celtics return to greatness. I've seen the Red Sox win two champions. The first, while I was at Ithaca, seemed surreal, especially considering how they got there. The second, while I was here in Clemson, was very real and very powerful. Yes, Jack, the Red Sox did win the World Series.

You want to know how much it all means to me? I cried a bit watching that scene again. It combines two things I love a lot and, ironically, Jack wasn't the one letting the tears loose. That scene is one of my favorite of the series because what Ben tells Jack resonates so deeply with me personally. "That's why the Sox will never win the Series." They did, in real life. There is no fatalism. There is no determinism. We can improve. We can change (really, not the Obama kind). We can be what we want.

So, I'm leaving you, Clemson. I grew. You didn't. Don't fret. We'll always have Paris. I made some of the best friends of my life here. You know who you are, and I thank you for letting me into your life and accepting my invitations into mine. I learned so much about myself here. If you can step in front of a classroom and truly have something real to say, then you know true confidence. Thank you to my students who indulged me, from my growing pains and my mistakes to my successes and long conversations about LOST. I tried to teach you in the same way I learned: with unabashed honesty and passion. I hope you learned something. Thank you to the girls I spent time with or didn't spend time with at all or, oh, you get the picture. I can't explain the amount you helped me grow. The most unfortunate thing is you're missing out on more than you'll ever know. And that's the thing. You'll never know. Which is why you're not on my level (yet). What's amazing is I can say that now, and mean it. I hope you can catch up to me someday. Sometimes I see too much goodness in everybody.

When I look into the mirror now, I see exactly what I want to see. Where I've been, where I'm going, it's all less important than the fact that I'm here now and I'm truly happy about it, not in the short term hedonistic pleasure seeking way, but in the long term truly contented way. I honestly believe most people can say that. But I can. And I'm damn proud of it.

I'm JML. It's nice to meet you. Who are you?

(Btw, if you thought I was talking about you, I probably was. Have something to say about it? Say it. I encourage all of you to keep in touch. I want to hear about all the things you accomplish, and I'm here if you want someone to talk to. Only you can find the answers you're looking for, but I can share my experiences with you.)

Now, suit up!

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