Guest post by author William Carter
Be the Rainbow
My freshman year of college was hard, like really hard.
October 2007 of my senior year of high-school, I was involved in a head-on collision with a Suburban, and I suffered a brain injury, a stroke, a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, and I was placed in a coma. 2007 and the first part of 2008 were some of the most challenging months of my life. I woke from the coma to confusion. My short-term memory was absolute trash. I was in diapers. I had left-side neglect. I lost a fourth of the vision in my left eye. I had a shaved head with a scar down the back where they took out a chunk of my skull to help with the swelling (it would be returned to me in December). My left fingers shook if I exerted them too much. I was in a wheelchair, and I wanted nothing more than to get better. In fact, this was my simple prayer every night before I drifted off to sleep.
Though by the time August rolled around, things were a little bit easier. I graduated high school My wheelchair had been replaced by a shuttered limp. I was going to college. Though, I was but a shadow of who I had been before the accident, and I all I wanted was just a chance to be back in his skin. Please God, just give me one day as that AP student, that president of the drama club, that champion debater, that social butterfly. Please God, take this away. Just take this me away and give me him.
The Promise of College
So, college had this promise to it. You see, my friends at high school now knew this new me, this me who would forget what was just said, this me who would get mixed up or confused, this me who would shrink to the floor and eventually wish for a sudden abduction out of most social environments. But college? No one knew me. No one I knew was going to Oglethorpe. I could reinvent myself. I could create the person I want to be.
Of course, though, I still had a brain injury. I still was the same mixed-up, limping, awkward kid who was living post subdural hematoma, post stroke. Then, you throw college classes on top of that? My first-year writing course was kicking my butt. There were reading quizzes every day, and I’m reading, but I’m failing. So, what am I to do? The only thing I can do: wake up at four in the morning and study every moment I can. I fail my first two papers. So, now I have no choice; I have to get A’s in my acting and music history classes, so I can still keep my scholarship. I don’t really have time to work on friendship. I go to the bible study, but I can’t do much else. I go to dining hall occasionally, but I mostly eat in my room. I am tired of looking for somewhere to sit. Also, I can’t afford to waste any time. I need to read. I need to study.
"I'm so tired."
In my room, I listen to music. Music has always been a comfort for me, and I’m in my bed, looking at my recent less than stellar grade on my recent paper (74), and the soft, comforting voice of Ingrid Michaelson floats in my ears,
“The bluebirds fly so high
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why oh then why can’t I?
Why, then oh why can’t I?”
And I want to cry. I want to just weep. Why can’t I? I’m so tired. I am so exhausted. I just want life to not be so hard anymore. I just don’t want to struggle anymore. I want to make friends. I want to enjoy college. College is fun, they say. College is the best time of your life, they say.
But they never had a brain injury. They never had to work four times as hard to get that B. They were not always wishing for that place somewhere else, somewhere over the rainbow.
That’s why the song has the impact and the staying power it does.
Life Goes On; fast or slow.
Many of us have had that time in our life where we want to be anywhere but now. Give me a time machine that takes me any place but this moment. Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward! And every time, you push this mental remote, everything just goes slower.
Life can go by very fast, but it can also go so painfully slowly, and you just will give anything to be somewhere else, anywhere away from now.
Now did not last forever. I did find some respite. God blessed me with friends, but even more, he blessed me with a safe place. I spent so much of my first semester freshman year feeling stupid. I did not enjoy my classes because they were just another place to feel less than, just another place to feel judged.
I Found a Rainbow
Then, my second semester rolled around. I began taking a Medieval and Tudor Drama Course. I was excited to take this course because, in the Fall, two short plays I wrote were performed by the student-led acting group, and this professor, Dr. Hornback, apparently loved them. He thought they were hilarious. A professor thinks my work is hilarious? How do I sign up for his course? Also, what does he teach?
So, I enrolled in Dr. Hornback’s course, and every day, I was happy to be there. He gave great lectures, but he would pause and answer my questions, and he supported my commentary on the plays we were reading. I wrote my own miracle play about Elisha and the bears, and he enjoyed it immensely. Now, I found a rainbow.
I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but if you haven’t lived it, you don’t know how important it is. I felt safe in his classroom. I felt smart in his classroom. I felt accepted in his classroom, and I enjoyed every day I was in it. I needed this man and his class. I needed a place that felt like an island in the midst of struggle.
Pay It Forward
Now, two master’s degrees later, I am a professor. This semester, a student said the most beautiful thing to me. One day, this student, aa student who has had a challenging life and was having a personally difficult semester, looked at me and said, “I smile every time I enter your class.”
I would be lying if I said my eyes didn’t well up a little.
He didn’t know just how much that meant to me. He didn’t know how much I needed such a place my freshman year. He had heard me talk about my injury, talk about my struggles in college, but he didn’t know just how this affirmed everything. I do think I was an empathetic person before my accident, but especially because of my accident, I try so hard to make my classroom a positive, supportive, safe place for all my students. I want to be the Hornback in their lives because I remember how much I needed it.
I think about that song from time to time, and I think about all the people in my life who were there when I needed them to be. I think how hard my graduate school experiences were because not was I recovering from a brain injury, but after the fact, I found out I was living with a heart condition. I think of the people who were safe, the people I knew I could count on to be that drop of land in the midst of a raging sea.
So, that is what I try to do, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Be the rainbow to those in your life. You don’t know how much someone desperately needs it. I was so overjoyed but also taken aback when my student told me that my class made him smile. I guess because I don’t think I have that much power, but the truth is, every one of us does.
If you’re a teacher, your students look to you. If you’re a boss, your employees look up to you. If you’re just a person in line at the supermarket, be the person who affirms that cashier, tries to brighten his or her day. Be the rainbow that helps someone not want to escape now for somewhere else. Be the rainbow that helps today be one worth living.