If you ask the average college student about their career aspirations, you’ll hear a range of answers. Some of which are expected. On a rare occasion you’ll obtain an answer that is refreshingly honest – along the lines of, “I don’t know!”
When I have the opportunity to stand up and share my personal chapter and verse, I cut through the fluff, the pomp and the circumstance. My story is usually brief, “I was kicked out of UTK and now, after 11 years teaching at a college level, I’m making a difference. And no, I’m not enrolled in a work release program.”
College students of my era weren’t blessed with outsider views. Academia was the only view we witnessed on a daily basis. My 1984 collegiate window was small, inwardly focused and while optimistic, it was clouded because the real-world was blocked.
Looking in the rear view mirror – thousands of miles later, 78 speeding tickets later, five agencies later, five cities later … I know my life would have evolved differently had someone taken the opportunity to share their story. Ergo the reason I do so today.
Would life be different? Would my career path have changed courses? What if?
Given the opportunity, I stand up and share the good, the bad and the not-so-obvious. Had someone told me to define my “A Plan,” I would have chuckled because I didn’t have a “B Plan nor a C Plan.” I had a get-a-job-plan. Funny how life scares you into making decisions.
Ha! Sometimes the message hits home.
“Its marvelous what you can see
when you open your eyes.”
Nearing 4Pm I realized the day had been the typical blur – and my mind raced ahead to the County Clerk’s office where a small, tiny decal awaited my check. The only ‘thing’ in my way was the distance between the office and the Clerk’s office just 18 miles away. The sun was shining – the birds chirping – the blue sky was clear – the clouds few and puffy white – the music a little sweeter – the inevitable Firerock Pale beckoning my tastebuds.
All was good.
Within five miles of the office the traffic slowed to a 5mph crawl. I knew something was up – but I had no idea how bad or what it was. The clock ticked away slowly at first and when the hand touched 4:15 I knew that the Clerk’s office would be closed if and when I arrived.
As I opened the sun roof of my car (I rarely do that) I felt the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and smelled the cigarette smoke from a man smoking in the car next to me. For an instance I thought, “how dare you ruin this moment” – but I continued to smile. Sure I was annoyed. But what could I do?
Stop for a moment.
Have you ever stepped up to the bathroom sink, reached for the toothpaste and squeezed the tube but nothing was left in it? At that moment you either threw it down in anger or shrugged your shoulders and brushed without the paste … or found another tube somewhere hidden under the sink.
No matter – it was what we decided that determined how we felt and in doing so it attracted more of what we felt.
Back to the drive home, I shrugged my shoulders and said aloud, “toothpaste.” I then laughed. I raced, mentally ahead in wonderment of what lay ahead at the dreaded intersection of Topside Road and Alcoa Highway. It’s notorious for accidents – and I’ve witnessed more than 10 at that location over the years.
Nearing the intersection I could see that we were being diverted onto Topside – and that seemed odd until I saw three fire trucks and countless police cruisers. THP had a video camera set up and was filming the extraction of ‘bodies’ from a car. A pickup truck was in the northbound lane – smashed and lifeless. Police were allowing northbound lane traffic to pass single file but nothing was going south.
As our single file lane neared the intersection I saw a black bag – then two. My heart sank deep and I realized the crash involved fatalities.
At that moment I was angry, annoyed, happy and a whole bunch of other things all at once. Angry that it happened (isn’t it time that we change the rules of road for that intersection!!!), annoyed that police were on the spot but are no where to be found (daily) when traffic is attempting to turn left onto Alcoa Highway, and happy … well sort of happy …. that I was alive.
The tiny decal for my car’s license plate isn’t that important after all.
What is important is that I appreciate each day as if it were my last.
In that moment I figured out why I’m so damn happy when I’m in Hawai’i. Why I’m so content when I visit – why I’m so eager to return again and again. Why? Because I noticed EVERYTHING and in doing so time slows down and I’m in the moment. I’m into life itself and I soak it up as if I have just a few days to live. I’m in the moment so vividly and clear that I soak up everything – including those things that typically annoy me. But when I’m there (in my paradise) I’m super-happy. Not because it’s Hawai’i, but because I’m living life.
As I turned the corner onto Topside I realized something very, very important: happiness is a state of mind. Either you’re in it. Or you’re not.
I’m in it.
If Paul Harvey were alive, he’d offer the rest of the story:
APRIL 9th, 2010
In a press release, Sgt. Bud Cooper said Jean Smith, 82, of Oak Ridge, and Clara Miller, 75, of Clinton, were killed in the two-vehicle crash.
At 2:50 p.m., Smith, who was driving a 2006 Toyota Camry, was attempting to turn left onto Alcoa Highway northbound from Topside Road when she failed to yield and pulled out in front of a Dodge Ram truck driven by Brandon L. Barnes, 23 of White Pine, Cooper said. Barnes hit the driver’s side door of the Camry.
According to the press release, Smith was killed instantly. Miller was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where she died as a result of injuries from the crash, Cooper said.
Cooper said Barnes was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital and is being treated for his injuries.