Super Saturday: A Teacher Regenerates

This post was published on January 1 of this year. This Wednesday marked exactly six months since my accident. When I get discouraged, I have to remind myself how close in time I am to the accident. It’s kind of remarkable that I’m only six months out and that this post was written only two months after my accident.

I have written about policy mainly on this blog, but talking about education reform requires a lot of reading outside of the blog, and I’m not at that level yet. It also hurts my ability to talk about education reform because the fact that I’m not in the classroom influences my inability to comment on education policies. Being a survivor of a horrific car accident in October of 2013 has got me thinking about using this blog in another way: as a way to document my recovery. My parents are super cool in helping me to think positively. I hear constant congratulations from my parents when they congratulate me on my improved decision-making and other things that show recovery. The visitors I’ve had have taken an instrumental part in my journey. Recently, I made a decision about how happy I am to be alive and re-chasing career/life goals. This inspired congratulations from my parents. It’s incredible how the shift into happiness has affected my social encounters. They are much better. I’m making a lot of other changes. Something that is not a change is my fandom of Dr. Who. I watched a lot of Dr. Who recently, and I made a recent tweet that said I must be in the middle of a Regeneration. And I think I am. My body has changed. I’ve gained a little weight since the accident. I weigh more than I did <i>before</i> the accident. And this blog will surely become something else as I move into recovery.

Thoughts about some things have also changed. Phrases that contain the word “death” or bring thoughts of it are annoyances. They didn’t bother me so much before the accident. I bought an Eminem album recently in a certain mood.  The phrase “Imma kill you” is prevalent in the album and annoyed me. The annoyance stems from how excited I am to be alive.

As people have remembered on Twitter: I made a permanent decision a considerable time back to get the following tattooed to me: “I am the dust of the earth. The world was created for me.” It’s scary how much my life came to fulfill that first sentence and how hard it is for me to stay focused on the second sentence.

I have earned my life back. “The world was created for me” begins to seem more believable. Sometimes, I talk about a future tattoo I might get. But I don’t need another tattoo when I have a scar.

What people don’t know (some may have seen my dad putting a picture on Facebook) is that while in Dodd Hall at Ohio State University Hospital I wrote on a white board beside a piano that I was playing—I was playing the song you think about when you read the lyrics — and my therapists saw the sentence “No mountain high enough.” My recovery and journey back to the classroom has totally taken that theme. Another theme I’m trying to remind myself about is the Detroit motto “We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.” I hope for better things in my life.

In Detroit, I’ve learned a lot about education, students, and life. I hope I will be given a place to tell everyone that wants to know these things. This blog is my take of that place. Dr. Joseph Bianco, my thesis advisor at Ohio University sent me a book about a nurse who helped Vietnam veterans with their last minutes of dying, a lot of whom had been survivors of near-death experiences. They were in Hospice, getting ready to die, and the nurse helped them see their personal inner heroes. That’s the kind of attitude I want to bring into the classroom. Teaching is simply helping students discover their personal inner heroes.

God told me something in my moment that was amazing. I listened in the time.  For the rest of my life, I’m going to continue to believe in God because I’ve seen Him. My relationship with God before the accident was rocky. I didn’t always believe in Him. I am so thankful He ended up keeping me alive.

The list of things I tell my parents I’m excited for and the list of things God will certainly put in my life since He has given me my life:  being in charge of a classroom again, returning to my job, interacting with friends, being able to drive to their events, and being present at the important times in all of my friends’/family’s lives, and having similar times that I get to invite people to. My brother Tyler who has been crazy fun to interact with in my recovery is thought of here. I’ve been a huge joy to him as he is to me while I’ve been recovering. I went out with him when he practiced kicking. He’s his university’s football team’s kicker. I retrieved footballs for him. He got the biggest grin on his face when I would throw them back to him.

God’s last words to me were “I have to go, but I have a plan for you.” “I have to go” was one of the scariest things to hear in a near-death moment because I thought He wasn’t going to help me and those words have been the source of much of my confusion. It’s why I thought I was dying. It’s why that supposition has returned several times. God seemed out of it, in the moment, but in reality, I was the one out of it. Now, I realize “I have to go” was referring to my survival and that He had given the skills to emergency responders and doctors that would ultimately save my life. But “I have a plan for you” seemed more than a little crazy because I wasn’t ready to think that God’s plan for me was brand new. As I have discussed His words over with many people, they have helped me to realize that God’s plan for me did not have to be different than His first one. My first God plan was definitely to educate, think, and love people I was around. That’s what His current plan seems like, which means the life I’m currently living is not my own — an idea that is hard to swallow; the scar is a good reminder. Other people will gain life from it. It will be a life I devote to service-type things like teaching, loving, and learning. I am frustrated almost daily because I’m not actively meeting all parts of His plan. The support that I’ve received is all about heading back to the classroom.

Today is the welcome of 2014. I count on it being a great year where I manage to make it back to the classroom.

Super Saturday: A Metaphor Concerning a Family Card Game

This post was originally published on December 26, 2011. Uno was the first card game I played in the hospital after the accident, and I played it so many times when I got home. I made everyone who visited me play it. From the very beginning, I used my strategy.

Holidays at the Smith household are pretty amazing. We spend a lot of time playing the card game Uno.

That’s not completely accurate.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince my family that we should play Uno. I really like it. It’s a very simple game. It’s mostly about luck – what cards you draw and what cards others play. But I have a strategy.

My family doesn’t believe in the strategy, but the numbers speak for themselves. Over the past few days, I have won the most games (the numbers are even more striking when you don’t count Dad’s wins when he cheated and when we played by my brother’s “house rules”).

I don’t think that I’ve cracked Uno. That’s not very likely. Like I said, it’s mostly a game of luck. And I don’t think my strategy is ground-breaking. It’s just a plan. It does two things for me.

1. I always know how I’m going to play a hand. No matter the cards in my hand or the cards in my opponents’ hands, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I do all the thinking well before I ever pick up a card. It saves me from making mistakes during game play.

2. I never worry about what else is going on. Obviously, you can’t control the cards that your opponents get in Uno. But if you have a plan, any plan, then you are controlling all that you can. Therefore, there’s no reason to worry about what else is going on; you can just play.

That’s what a good strategy does. It gives you a plan, and it frees you from worry.

Super Saturday: When Eternity Finds Its Way Into Today

In recovery, eternity and the present seemingly merged for me.  It seems like my accident was a lifetime ago but it was a little more than five months ago. When people visit me, I can say “it’s been a lifetime since I’ve seen you” and mean it literally. This post was originally published on November 9, 2011.

I’m deathly afraid of eternities and infinities. My brain likes it much more when I have a finite amount of things left to do.

I used to be a philosophy major. It was a hard time in my life. I think I used to like philosophy. It’s hard to remember that far back, but I think I did, once. I started to second-guess my major at the same point in my life that I began to consider it as a life-long career.

The problem with being a life-long philosopher is that your job is never really done. There are always critics to argue against. There are always new ideas to explore. There are always more books to read, more systems to overthrow, and more logic to do.

That scared the hell out of me. I don’t know if I could have been a philosopher. Maybe I don’t have what it takes. But I do know that I would have been burnt out before I had gotten through grad school. I would have been focused on the following sixty years of my career. I would have been thinking about the next thing always. That’s tiring.

For a while, dropping my philosophy major made my life easier. I don’t plan on making an academic career out of my studies in literature so the endless amount of academic work in the field doesn’t intimidate me. But now I realize that infinity, the future, eternity sneaks up on you. It finds you. And pretty soon, you realize that you are never going to be able to read everything, see everything, meet every person important in your field. Then you have a choice.

You can either let it intimidate you. You can let it ruin you. You can let it stress you out.

Or

You focus on the task at hand. You can approach your present challenge as if it is the last thing you will ever have to accomplish. And you can do it.

Super Saturday: A Blog Post In Which I Over-Think My Tendency to Over-Think

This post was originally published on October 18, 2011. A month or so ago I told my father that traumatic brain injuries work out pretty well for perfectionists because I’d always have something to blame my mistakes on that had nothing to do with talent or intelligence. But now, I see that it actually makes being a perfectionist even worse. Now, I have one other thing about myself that is capable of causing a mistake. My parents tell me quite often that I’m over-thinking stuff.

I think far too much. Ask anyone who even knows the first thing about me, and they will all say the same thing. Thinking too much isn’t always a bad thing. I think it might be connected to my need to listen to jazz music while I study and my love for reading and my general ability to sometimes make good decisions. And all of those things are good.

But sometimes, it is a very bad thing. There are several reasons for this.

1) Thinking too much paralyzes. It keeps you from actually doing anything. Sometimes I get so caught up in the theoretical components of an activity, that I never actually do the activity. I am guilty of this in responsibilities as small as reading e-mails. I think about how great it would be if I set a little time apart each day to answer all my e-mails. And while I am thinking about this, my inbox piles up and my time disappears. But if I answered e-mails as they came in, I would have plenty of time for them.

2) Thinking too much leads to bad thoughts. When you think too much, it is impossible to think good thoughts all the time. Invariably, then, less than good thoughts creep their way into your mind. Often, I find myself thinking about how I am going to fail at something. And even more often than that, I find myself thinking about how I compare to other people. Spending time comparing myself to others is probably the biggest time-suck I engage in. It makes no sense. As I am thinking about how I measure up to other people, they are getting even farther ahead. Some people might argue that I shouldn’t think about it like that, but I do. And it is helpful to think that if I just did the work, I would stand a much better chance of measuring up. You can’t do anything standing still.

3) Thinking too much causes a decrease in self-confidence. If I listened to my head all the time, I would really hate myself. My apartment is rarely clean, my inbox rarely empty, my work rarely done, my dreams rarely achieved, and my relationships rarely deep. But what my head doesn’t tell me is that all of those things are within my ability to change. I just need to stop thinking and get up and do them.

What are you thinking about? How much you hate these questions? Leave a comment anyway. I would love to hear from you!

Super Saturday: A Life-Changing Incomplete Thought

I published this post on December 22, 2011. It’s something that I need to remind myself of just about daily now. Since I’m doing lightyears better since four months ago, I want to be out doing things. It often feels like my life is on hold. I’m waiting for that magical moment where I’m teaching again like it’s going to be the life-changing thing. I think it’s the journey of recovery that is actually the life-changing thing.

What if we woke up one day and someone told us that all of the stuff we were doing in preparation for that really important life-changing thing was the really important life-changing thing?

That’s a little confusing.

Let me put it another way.

You might be busy building a social media platform, training for a marathon, dating in an attempt to find a life-partner, getting a degree for a job, starting a business, or starting a movement. Currently, I have a couple of things like that on my plate. I am trying to get a degree. I am starting a student organization on campus. I am trying to build a platform as a blogger. And it’s hard. And a lot of time, I think my real effect on the world will happen when I have my degree, when my student org is running by itself, and when I have over a thousand people following my blog.

There’s a really great war novel I once read where these soldiers are training for war by using video games, but you find out in the end that the video games were the war.

That’s how life works. The life-changing part happens while we are trying to get to the part we think is going to be life-changing.

Super Saturday: Reflections, or, He Shoots Lightning From His Feet

I’m constantly amazed at how applicable my posts before the accident are to me post-accident. This post was originally posted on April 22, 2013.

I want to pack up every thought I’ve had in a box and place it in a corner where I will one day forget about it and when I finally rediscover it I will assume it’s a box of old basketball trophies (the kind you get for participating) and because you can’t do anything with old basketball trophies I will put it out with the trash and never have to think about it again.

I want to pull back all the words I’ve ever spoken as if they existed on measuring tape and I could push a little button on the side of my head and they would all come back to me and even if the shock of all of those words hurt me a little and made me feel a little dizzy at least they would stop hurting anyone they have stung.

I want to walk backwards through life and watch as everything I’ve ever done unravels and I want to know how it feels for the pressure to decrease steadily steadily steadily steadily.

I want to line up every person I’ve ever known and I want to stand on trial before them so they can judge whether I have helped or hurt them not because I want to know if I am a good person or a bad one but because I want to know how to maximize the helping and minimize the hurting.

I want to write down everything and everyone I have ever loved so that I can chart it [love] and diagram it [love] and dissect it [love] and maybe figure out what it [love] means.

I want to curl up into God like He is a king-sized bed and I am a three-year-old child and I want to feel all of my secrets wash away under me deep under the covers into long-forgotten and never-traveled bed-spaces.

I want to gather all the people I have seen but whose names I do not know and feed them cake and throw a party with small talk and then later big talk and then much later tears and when I leave I will know many new names and I will have made many new friends and fallen in love perhaps twice or more.

And I want to dance so hard that I create a storm and no one will be able to get near me and they will look at me and they will say that storm used to be a boy but then he danced and now he shoots lightning from his feet.

Super Saturday: A Metaphor Concerning Honey Wheat Bagels

This was originally published on January 25, 2012. If I could time travel, I would go back to that day, meet myself, scold myself (because hardship shouldn’t be desired; it’s hard) and then give myself a hug. 

Since I came to college, I have been obsessed with the fact that I am so normal. I have written blog posts and journal entries, had conversations, and lived a life trying to figure out why I am so normal.  I want conflict (naively)! I want hardship (naively)! It’s silly, I know. But it’s something that I think about.

I have always preferred white bread and plain bagels, which has made for a great metaphor. I am white bread. I am normal.

The other day, I was grocery shopping, and they were out of plain bagels. So I had to buy honey wheat. I was really upset. I am a plain bagel person. I will always be a plain bagel person.

So a couple of days later, it was time to open up the honey wheat bagels, and I did it begrudgingly. And I made my usual cheese and ham sandwich with a toasted bagel, and I bit into it, and the world opened up and the sun smiled on me. I loved it!

Sometimes you go your whole life thinking something is one way, and if you just step out of it, you can start having something another way. Metaphors. Bagels. Awesome.