Iron Mike

Well, well, well. Would you look at who we have here. I can’t believe I’m sitting here and attempting this absurd pastime again. It’s been a year, hasn’t it friends? And yet, look at us! We are still churning out efforts day after day despite it all. And as difficult as it has been to move back to the U.S. (at the height of a global pandemic and in the midst of an attempted coup), damn it’s been good to see you again. For those of you that I haven’t caught up with yet, you’re on my list. I’m coming for you!

After several failed attempts and months spent in other people’s homes, I’m happy to announce we have secured a place in Sewanee, Tennessee. And boy is it worth the wait. It’s a place rich with trails, lakes, pastures, and the slower pace of life that we fell in love with in South Africa. Finally. The sea shipment arrived and has been mostly unpacked. The boys have friends and a school year on the horizon. All seems to be unfolding as we hoped it ultimately would. My stress and anxiety, having peaked in February and March have now receded leaving an abundance of gratitude in their wake. Maybe we really have turned the corner.

I still think often of my former students, and some of whom I’ve been fortunate enough to keep in touch with fill me on their challenges and accomplishments. Recently I was walking in the woods with Atlas and reflecting on how anxious some of those kids were about taking the next steps in their lives. And it struck me that some of the people who needed so much support back then are absolutely thriving today. Schools are fantastic at teaching and enforcing compliance. They are a dime a dozen. It’s much more difficult to find a place that values and teaches students how recognize when and how to pivot, how to read the oncoming winds and how to tack when necessary. As I hear from these friends near and far, a recurring theme is apparent. They are all surveying the immediate landscapes of their lives and checking the maps and making adjustments accordingly. I mean, that’s some seriously impressive neuroplasticity.

Twenty years ago in a tiny dorm room I had yellow post-it notes with favorite quips and quotes tacked above my desk. I don’t remember where I read it or if it was even authentic, but one of them said “Everybody has a plan till they get hit.” It was attributed to Iron Mike Tyson. I don’t know why I had it up there. I didn’t particularly like the quote. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t the one doing the hitting. At that time life was like that. I would make a plan going into a race and then something would go wrong, a split would be way off or I’d be much further back than I had envisioned, and I’d spend the rest of the miles before the finish line trying to survive. In my classes too, I’d nail all my school assignments but blow up on a mid-term or a paper, and I’d struggle till finals because I couldn’t ever put things back the way I had pictured them. That’s why I’m so impressed by the stories from these young people. It took me at least a decade and too many false-starts, abandoned relationships, and half-hearted endeavors to get to a place where I could take a hit and not throw up my hands in surrender.

Even still, I think that’s been the most difficult part of the last year for me personally. Recognizing in the confusion of the moment just what needs to be done is a gift age has kindly bestowed. And after a year like this, it is a most appreciated one and well worth the cost.

Be good and keep in touch.

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