Priceless Gem

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming.”

Charles Kuralt offered his own answer to this question during his speech at the UNC Bicentennial in 1993.

That day, I was a fresh-faced, idealistic high school senior, anxious about my future, unsure of what the next step would be and where I would choose to take it. Sitting in Kenan Stadium that day, although I had grown up nestled in the Piedmont of the old North State, I became a Tar Heel. That speech had something to do with it. As did President Clinton’s. As did the enormity of the situation. But what truly sealed the deal for me that fall afternoon was the boundless, electrifying oneness of the crowd. The pride, the camaraderie, the feeling that we were all connected by this one, finite, beautiful place.

Near and far, alumni of UNC Chapel Hill all seem to carry a torch for this place. Sure, it’s college where many of us finally come into our own, discover ourselves, find a home, a friend, a love. But still. It’s so much more. I’ve seen it in a few other faces for a very small set of other schools. It’s rare. But it exists outside of Chapel Hill. When you see it, you know.

I’m not sure if it’s the brick walks, the Old Well, the stone walls, the chiming of the tower, the football stadium nestled in the pines or the dome settled in the valley below South Campus, the academics, the banners in the rafters, the accolades, the faculty, the blue cups, the chicken biscuits after the blue cups or some sprinkling of them all. But I have a feeling a lot of it for many of us has to do with what happened today.

Today, Coach Dean Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. My Facebook feed has been blowing up with articles and pictures and congratulatory messages posted by my UNC-alumni friends. I started to wonder why we cared so much? Why did this honor pull so many of me and my Carolina blue brethren in? And the answer was not that we’re a basketball school and therefore fanatics about all that is Carolina basketball, although I’m sure that may be true for one or two.

What I think it really is is that same mysterious thread, that little lifeline that pulls us back to dogwoods blooming on Gimghoul and azaleas blazing around the Old Well. The same whisper that urges us to yell “PRICELESS GEM” with all our might during the alma mater.

Dean Smith exemplified a life lived with integrity. A life that was concerned more with doing what was right, not necessarily winning ball games. Although the secret is that by doing what was right, his teams ended up wining ball games. A lot of them. And his players ended up graduating college. A whole helluva lot of them.

Dean Smith was the coach who instilled the thank the passer point, the idea being that you acknowledge who helped you achieve the score. You see it as the players run backwards back down the court after a big play, fingers extended, pointing at the passer.

And that, my Carolina friends, is what I think binds us to this place. Sure, Charles’ argument that it is the University of the People is a great point. But…

Without Carolina I wouldn’t have achieved what I have today. Without Carolina I wouldn’t have the friends I have today. Without Carolina I may not have the family I have today.

Thank you Coach Smith, for living your life by such exemplary standards. Thank you for your contributions to the court, the college and the community. Thank you for reminding me through your award today that I have neglected to thank the passer for a long, long time.

So today, Chapel Hill, I’m pointing at you. Thank you.

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Inspiration

This fall has tested my mettle.

I’m spending more days in the office. Not just more days, but really every minute that both boys are occupied at school is a moment that I’m in the office. Although that’s great for getting work done, it’s put pressure on how to accomplish school volunteering opportunities, running errands in a timely manner and exercising (remember that yoga high I was on? Haven’t been to a class since this summer). Add to that increasing school responsibilities for my 7 year old (book reports in the first grade?), being co-president of our neighborhood ladies club and attempting to keep the house relatively functional and I have often felt at my wit’s end this fall.

It was already weighing on me emotionally and then the stomach flu found three out of four of us. Not just any stomach flu, but the one that laid the adults up in bed for 48 hours and took a week before we felt a semblance of normal again. That put us all behind the proverbial 8-ball and amped my panic meter to 11.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve been freaking out a bit. And by a bit, I mean a lot. I’m fussing at the hubby about needing support but unsure what really to ask for. I’m short with the kids. I’m frustrated that I can barely get done what I HAVE to get done not to mention feeling the things I WANT to get done slip through my fingers – exercise, write, read a magazine without thinking about the laundry I should be doing since the boys are out of clean underwear.

Then, I went to book club. Ah, book club. Books are my salvation. No matter how busy I am, I always have time to read. Before bed, in car pool, while eating breakfast. I sneak it in whenever I can. If I’m not reading a book, I feel unmoored. So of course I wasn’t going to miss my monthly book club. Particularly because the author was coming to join our group to discuss the book.

First off, I loved the book. I highly recommend it. I’m not just saying that because the author happens to be a very sweet woman, although she is, or because I am always fascinated by Poe’s stories, although I am. It’s just a compelling read with complex characters that are navigating the constantly shifting tectonics of the day, its social morays and their own moral compasses.

I’m off track – see what books do to me? – because what I mean to say is that this author, this woman, this mother of three spoke wise words to me that have kindled an awakening fire: Keep writing.

Yes, I know. Every book on writing, every author in a tip article, every English teacher ever always says to the aspiring writer: Just keep writing.

What was different this time is the context — that this woman who has been in my shoes, who put aside her personal work for her children’s early days and eventually came out the other side to live her dream of being a writer said to me that each step is another step closer.

So I may not be able to work on that novel huddled away in a folder on my desk top as often as I’d like or write here on this blog as much as I used to or even journal more than once every few months. But the fact that I do any of those things at all at any interval is keeping me on the right path.

I find myself inspired by that reassurance. I find my characters voices whispering to me again, very faintly, but there. It may take me years, I may be insanely frustrated that it isn’t happening at the snap of my fingers, but only I can make it happen at all. And every step is a step forward.

(It didn’t hurt that this lovely woman flattered me by saying she liked my writing. A little ego-stroking can be inspiring, too, and who am I to waste that?)

As the holidays bear down, as the task list grows longer, as I remember I still need to track down my flu shot, I am going to take a deep breath, take a realistic look at how I spend my days and do a better job of working in the wants. Even if it’s just a 15 minute yoga session with my handy app or a game of tag with the kids to squeeze in some exercise my body; even if it’s a snippet in a journal during car pool or a commitment to check in with my characters while the hubby has the kids in the bath to exercise my creativity, I am going to accept the challenge that my inspiration is taunting me with.

What challenges do you need to accept?