There’s a bench at my undergrad that no one knows exists.
I first sat on it in the fall of 2009. I was a freshmen. My mother had just called me to tell me my grandmother had died. She wasn’t my real grandmother, but I still called her Grandma. That’s all that mattered.
I was lost; 18 and dislocated. When I shook my principal’s hand at my high school graduation he said to me, “Keep going,” words that rattled around in my head during that first semester of college.
Keep going where? What was my trajectory?
I envisioned myself strapped on the top of an Atlas rocket — the kind they used for the Apollo lunar missions — not knowing where I was going. The biggest fear was if I was going to come back to Earth or not. Say what you will, but all adventures must end and I wasn’t for sure if I wanted this one to end.
I did in that moment, though. With that bench under me, I sat there and stared up at the clock tower in the middle of our campus and heard it ding and dong a total of four times before I realized I was still holding my phone in the same place it had been since I had hung up with my mom.
Four years, $10,000 in loans and 124 credit hours, and the most important lesson I learned was self dependence. In that moment, and several others after that involving the bench, I always realized that if I kept going on this insane Apollo mission, I was always going to be too far from my family.
Farther than I was used to, at least.
Three years later with that bench, I realized no one could replace my family. Even when I start my own, no one is going to have my back like my parents.
It’s actually a scary thought for two reasons. Once this is realized you’re horribly afraid to lose them.
I got a text from Dad in a city council meeting to call him as soon as possible and I thought something horrible had happened. At the same time, you’re also afraid this fear is going to hold you back, stop you from your own adventure.
These were the thoughts I had on this bench. Whenever I needed to step outside myself and back in, to evaluate something or someone in my life, that bench was there.
But that first time really changed me. It was the first time I truly used myself as a mirror, when I asked myself life-altering questions and when answers came from within for those questions.
Maybe that’s wisdom. Maybe it is self dependence. Maybe it’s just all part of growing up and I’m writing about a feeling, an idea or a lesson that’s been learned the hard way for thousands of years.
None of that matters. The point is, the bench gave me the closest thing to to a superpower anyone can get.
Compared to the years in middle school and high school spent in frustration and confusion, inner reflection feels like flying and super-strength.
It makes me impervious to hate. Somedays, when I’m surfing the Internet or just talking with people, I realize no one else can do this. No one else can use their inner-space in their minds to comfort or change themselves.
Those moments with the bench didn’t teach me how to live in denial and it didn’t actually give me super powers. Those moments, I guess never really existed. I only remembered the bench when I needed it.
When I was walking around in the middle of Spring, waiting like Tom Petty and Heartbreakers, I remembered where it was.
I guess the truth is, I never got off the bench. And I don’t plan to.