This time of the year is a great time for the nose in Murray, all allergies aside. I’m noticing smells from plants that I’ve taken for granted my whole life. The small white flowers that pop up in clover fields have a nice smell. Did you know this? Allyson and I were out in the quad at Murray talking about how nice it smells, and she picked one and inhaled its scent. It’s subtle, but nice, and you put thousands of those under your foot, and that odor is bound to add up. The magnolias in are bloom on campus too, and there’s this really nice lemony smell mixing with the roses. I don’t think we pay enough attention to our noses. They tell us a lot about what’s going on, and a smell can really affect your mood without even realizing it.
On Wednesday I trekked up to Nashville to be with my Mom and Dad, because my dad was having a pretty simple procedure. No big deal, he’ll be sore, but he should be fine. Still, there’s something sort of holy about visiting someone during something like this, no matter how routine or serious the procedure is. It has a way of making you really think about how you feel about someone, and compassion and warmth seem to rise to the surface a little easier, regardless of where it normally stays for you. Later that evening, I met my oldest friend, James, and his wife, Sarah who just returned from a two week trip to Italy. We met at Desano Pizza, a place that makes authentic Neapolitan pizzas, down to the ingredients, imported from Naples. They regaled me with stories of their trip that made me envious, wanting to relive Allyson and I’s trip several years ago.
A headache snuck in during dinner, and it got bad enough that I couldn’t even eat my share of the pizza (which is a tragedy indeed). The air pressure must have been changing, more humid air making its way into our area, and my head couldn’t adjust fast enough. Sarah encouraged me to stop on my way home, take some Aleve, and just lay in the car for 15 minutes. I took that advice, and I’m glad I did. It feels terrible to do something even as automatic as driving, when my head isn’t right. I remember several occasions where I was desperately trying to get home and had to pull over to puke my guts out on the side of the road. If you’ve ever had this happen, it’s not a lot of fun, but also not because of the embarrassment. At this point, the pain is enough that what people passing think of you is pretty minimal–you’re basically in survival mode. You’re not about to die and deep-down you know that, but you’re behaving in a way that it is all that matters. Thankfully, the rest in the car in a Shell parking lot kept my dinner off the shoulder of I-24.
Working at the radio station, I can’t help but hear all the coverage of the shooting in California, and I typically avoid these stories, because I think they get analyzed into the ground, and most talks focus on what tragedies like this say about our nation, our culture, our politics, and they largely avoid the more specific, personal issues. I’ve been glad to hear that conversations have been opened up about better mental health services–it looks like Congress might even hammer something out on this. This is special interest to me because it means job security for my wife, but Allyson’s work has also helped me understand on a deeper level how many college students are out there in desperate need of help, and it’s not guaranteed.
I remember one week at camp, there was a kid who kept getting into trouble. He had a young, first-time counselor who was in a little over his head and resorted to punishing the kid right away. It was this crazy power struggle over a bunch of stuff that ultimately didn’t matter. The counselor, by the first or second day, had taken away all this kid’s swimming privileges and chances to buy food at the canteen for the rest of the week. The kid got so angry that we’d have to pull him off to the side and talk to him several times a day. I followed him on one of these occasions and he kept telling me to leave him alone. At one point, he picked up a huge rock and cocked his arm back like he was going to throw it at me. I just winced and braced myself, then looked up to realize he was bluffing. For a second, though, it was in his eyes. He just wanted to hurt someone like he had been hurt. By the end of our talk, he was hugging me and crying.
I think about that kid a lot, like I do a lot of the other troubled kids who came through camp. I wonder how many found what they needed and saved themselves a lot of pain (their own and others’). I wonder how many spent too long in places where it just felt like it was them against the rest of the world, and the world just seemed to want to take everything away. I hope in these times of suffering and pain, we can slow down enough to let the feelings settle, seeing warmth and compassion rising up in us. I hope as time goes on, we’ll get better and better at finding it inside and help others see that it is there in them too.