Friday, October 29, 2004

Long Before Nike, There Was Pat Clary


I happened to share this story with my writers' group the other day, and it's one of those things that, once you bring it up again, stays on your mind although you'd long forgotten it. While I was thinking about it, I thought I'd share it here, since it fits perfectly with that repetitive (read: nagging) theme I've got going about how people who want to write should...well...WRITE.

My freshman year in college passed without my getting involved in much of anything, but in April of that year I went for a walk in the rain one night with a senior named Pat. He seemed, at the time, quite world-wise to me and I listened carefully to what he said. We were standing on a little bridge over the lagoon listening to water run over the rocks and abruptly, apropos of absolutely nothing, he said to me, "When you think you want to do something, just do it." He went on to explain that there had been a lot of things that he'd wanted to do during college, but he'd always thought he was too busy or he'd start next semester or whatever, and suddenly he was graduating and most of them remained undone. He said that later would never come, and that if I had the impulse to do something, I should get up and do it RIGHT THEN or it might pass me by forever.

This didn't seem to have a lot of application to my life because I wasn't a "get involved" kind of person, but the following September I was sitting in the snack bar of my dorm and they were collecting petitions for hall council and a casual friend came by and asked me why I wasn't running. "You only need 25 signatures," he said. "You could get them right here."

It was late and I had a calculus test the next day and I was having trouble with calculus, and I opened my mouth to say all that, to say that maybe I'd get involved later, and I literally heard Pat's voice. I got up and got the signatures. I went from floor president to executive secretary of our hall to executive secretary for the residence halls (8800 students), and it was in that position that I made my first political connections, launched my first protest, went to the state capitol to lobby, made my first public speech, did my first charity work. Literally everything I have accomplished in my multi-faceted career traces back to that one moment, when I set my foot on a path that would make an accomplished public speaker out of someone who got physically ill during speech class and a published writer out of someone who kept her best thoughts hidden in her desk drawer.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe later would have come. But I'm glad I didn't gamble on it.