It was morning, and from my kitchen radio, the announcer stoically told the news of the deaths of two classmates from my high school. I was 16, and although I do not remember their names, I remember the jar to my heart. They lived on my end of the county and the night before, drove crazy along a mountain road, lost control and died. I didn't know teenagers could die. Old people, sure, but not someone my age. I didn't sleep for days, and when I did, I had nightmares; mama would shake to wake me from the movie in my mind. The next year, I would be in a wedding of a close friend, only to bury her groom three days later.
And my roller coaster called life began at that moment.
I cry for Allison Parker and Adam Ward, the two journalists killed on Wednesday. My heart feels the same jar. Maybe because I am a journalist; maybe because it's just senseless. I watched my morning news this morning as Jaye Watson reminded me that the killer was "not was one of us." On Wednesday, I watched the video of the shooting; once. Then, I watched the video made from the other perspective; once. I felt my body go numb and wondered how I would breathe; then, as any good journalist (for that matter, a human being) would do, I questioned. I saw how close he came to the two innocents and wondered why they didn't react. Then, I knew.
I remembered my moments being the extension of a recorder, a camera: interviewing Cleveland Indian Clint Frazier in his home, Bob Chandler along the road in Maine selling his maple syrup to strangers, the chamber of commerce president in a neighboring county, a woman who was going through endless chemo treatments for breast cancer, an old moonshiner who was slowly losing his reality.
First, you are a reporter, a journalist, a storyteller; secondly, a multi-tasker. In the same moment, you must think, think back and then, think ahead. To concentrate so intensely on what has been said, what is being said, and what might be said - all the while remembering those questions you jotted down on a McDonald's napkin at the very weird moment when inspiration hit. Your audience is depending on your focus. That's what professional journalists do. That's what Allison and Adam did. They kept their focus.
As the roller coaster continues, we must all keep our focus. There will always be those who attempt to distract, disengage, condemn, belittle, undermine, stifle, and sometimes, extinguish our focus. I still battle back tears for the unexplained as I keep moving in the direction of my passion. Even as I pause, and say, "Why bother at this point in my life," I slap my hand (or my knee as mama would do) and remember the smiles of those who are (were) in focus.
"There's no other option for my roller coaster life."
Walt Whitman never resonated with my students. That stilted verse, oh but what about all that sex and Leaves of Grass nonsense. Of course, if they cared enough to read between the lines and discover his racy lifestyle or questionable choices, they might have given him a chance.
So when all the textbook poems had been read and the brief synopsis of an 19th Century icon had been offered, it was time for a break.
Then and every single time (3 times a year in as many classes for 20 years) I watched a video tape disappear into the void, and I would bite my lip to hold back the tears for I feared the inevitable: I would cry and my juniors would get to watch.
Collectively, we watched as an amazed class of timid boys ripped pages from a textbook. What joy! Rip. Rip. Rip. Void the analytical explanation of the assemblage of words - excrement! Yes, sir, Mr. Keating, excrement. "Words and ideas can change the world," he offers. The human race is full of passion. We must write. We must live. "You will contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"
He reached out to Mr. Anderson - to put him out of his misery. And then a student's worst fear realized as he "sounds his barbaric yawp" - and the barbarian slips out - loudly, to his amazement. "You have a barbarian in you after all." Don't you forget this, the teacher reminds.
The power, the self-less dedication of Mr. Keating to his students and to the poets of yesterday never got old. Never was a chore to watch. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." "Carpe Diem" - seize the day. That is their legacy. "Seize the day, boys. Make your life extraordinary."
Every time I watched, I was renewed. I vowed to do seize every single day, to grab hold and make it count, to become extraordinary. The irony of these words haunt me today, as I cry for Williams. It is unbelievable that "his verse" ended this way.
I will remember the laughter and the tears, and be so very thankful that you shared your genius with me. That you provided a way - though Dead Poets Society - to awaken my "yawp" as well as that of my students. You were a master of transcendent wonder. I thank you. I will remember that "words can change the world" and I will do my best to do just that.
My verse will be extraordinary. What will your verse be?
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.