I write this from the site of my greatest defeat in life.
My wife is currently suffering from an injury that prevents her from driving, so I am her chauffeur to and from this evening's night class. She is now working on her master's degree at the same small private college where we first met ten years ago as music students. That time, she left with a bachelor's degree.
I did not.
I wasn't a wild partier or a headstrong rebellious type; that would make for a much better story. The truth is that I simply paralyzed myself with a poisonous combination of fear and apathy. The more complex a task, the more I feared to face it. And the more I feared, the more likely I was to seek escape in my guitar, my friends, or my roommates' video games.
Of course, there is really no escape, only ignorance. I ignored my way through four years of college, and then left with a lot of debt and no degree to show for it.
My failure here at the college is a weight I carry constantly, one that holds me back both personally and professionally. I work at a school now, trying to help kids stay the educational course. But why should they listen to me? I didn't stay the course; I couldn't. Who am I to tell them they can?
On occasions like this, when I am forced to revisit campus, the wounds are opened anew. Just down the hallway from the lobby where I now sit waiting for my wife is the classroom where I attended my first CSS (college success seminar) with a group of freshmen. I was full of hope and wonder then, excited about the four coming years and about the future to which I thought they might lead me. It just feels like a cruel joke now.
I'm like Dickens' Miss Havisham, frozen in time and immersed in the tangible souvenirs of my worst moment.
I have come to think of this place as an old opponent who has defeated me and who holds it over my head whenever I am forced to endure his company. He isn't rude or boastful, mind you, but we both know who won. And his smug smile is much more reminder than I need.
Tonight, though, I find my attitude toward this place is changing just a little. I have a glimmer of hope now that I might be slowly turning into a different person from the lazy, insecure kid who first walked this hallway more than a decade ago. It's not that my failure has become less of a burden, but perhaps now it seems a little less permanent.
That kid, I think, would not have been able to endure a year-plus of the rigors and frustrations of marital arts training, nor keep up a regular exercise routine simply for the sake of being an honest martial artist. The interest would have been there, but he would have missed a week when he was sick, or busy, or just not in the mood, and then never gone back.
It is a comforting thought, that in aikido and (to some lesser degree) taekwondo I might be chipping away at the ground that hides a more responsible, perseverant man.
Someday soon, I will have to go back to school. Perhaps it will even be here; It's possible that I still have credits here that will not transfer to anywhere else. It's a daunting prospect, stirring up memories that continue to intimidate and antagonize me.
But through the lens of the dojo, I see a glimpse of myself as a man who just might be up to the task. Maybe next time, rather than hiding from college behind piled-up walls of distractions, I will meet my old opponent eye-to-eye.
Maybe next time, I'll straighten my hakama, smile, bow, and say to him, "Onegaishimasu."