Life as I knew it ended, five years ago—today. It was on this date, five years ago, that I walked out of my life as a teacher and into my life as a villain. Five years ago today was also the last day I was a teacher, or would ever be a teacher. Five years ago today, I was arrested.
Five years ago today, everything changed.
I’ve been binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy lately. Good show, overly-dramatic, but full of wonderfully-written dialogue. And as I was working at my desk today (with Grey’s playing in the background), I found my favorite scene:
Just before a dangerous surgery, the doctor, Dr. Derek Shepherd, tells his patient that if the surgery to remove his tumor does not look promising, the responsible thing is to close him up. Here is the patient’s response:
“No, don’t close me up. If you get in and it’s too complicated, cut the cord. Paralyze me if you must. I survived a war, did you know that? I survived a war where they put bodies in to mass graves where there was once a playground. I survived the death of my family, my parents, my brothers, and sisters. Then I survived the death of my wife and child when they starved to death in a refugee camp. I survived the loss of my country, of hearing my mother tongue spoken, of knowing what it feels like to have a place to call home. I survived. And I will survive the loss of my legs. If I have to, I’ll survive it. Okay? But Derek, there is always a way; when things look like there’s no way, there is a way to do the impossible—to survive the un-survivable. There’s always a way. And you, you and I have this in common. We’re inspired. In the face of the impossible, we’re inspired. So if I can offer one piece of advice to the world’s foremost neurosurgeon: Today if you become frightened, instead, become inspired.”
It’s funny how this is exactly the kind of thing I needed to hear on this exact day. For some reason, I’ve been dreading this anniversary. No reason in-particular, I’ve just known the five-year mark was approaching. Five years. It seems like longer ago when I say it that way.
Being a teacher who had a relationship with a student is now what I will be “known” for in many ways to many people. All of the great teaching and inspiring I did in the classroom is meaningless now. I ruined it all; people only typically remember the bad things a person has done in their lives, and rarely the good.
“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
[Act 3, Scene 2]
But I have an option now, and it scares the hell out of me, and it inspires me. I have the chance to take the terrible things I’ve done and use them to do something good — to keep others from doing what I’ve done, and to help others see it when it happens. I have been asked to give a speech about teacher/student relationships, the causes, the warning signs, and the solutions, at a national education convention later this year. It will be my first opportunity to take a proactive step forward toward attacking the problem to which I regretfully contributed.
And honestly, it scares the hell out of me.
But that’s okay, because I thrive on pressure situations. When I was in college, I would intentionally wait until the night before a paper was due before I would start on it, because I knew if I needed to write a solid paper, I needed the pressure of the deadline. I thrived on pressure. When I was an administrative intern, working toward my principal’s license, I thrived on the high-pressure incidents, such as fights in the hallways. So in my mind, I am approaching this speech in the same way, using the pressure and fear as inspiration and motivation. It will be a 45-minute speech followed by 15 minutes of questions. I will be the most hated person in the room, taking Q&A — and that is a pressure situation. And I find it inspiring.
I guess I had a small sample of that fear last weekend when I walked into a restaurant and saw a woman with whom I taught (and had a little fling). It scared me so much that I had to sit with my wife while I had a mini-breakdown, and the only thing I could do to cope was to write about it. But after seeing this clip from Grey’s Anatomy, it occurs to me that I should have smiled and said “Hi” to her, and stood bravely, handed her my card (with my website on it) and said, “Things are going great! I’m a writer now, living my dream!”
So do this. Let fear inspire you, not paralyze you (as it did me, when I saw that woman). Let fear be your motivation, not your excuse.
Five years ago, I was scared to death.
Five years later, I am inspired to live.
“Today, if you become frightened, instead, become inspired.”