New Digs and a Glimpse at the Past

So, welcome to the new blog! Well, it’s still the same. The only difference is that this is WordPress instead of Xanga. Anyway, here’s my first post that actually might be published in a book! More info on that later. Anyway, welcome again! Get cozy.

Original Title: “The Ubiquitous Summer Review”

Date Published: 24 September 2011

Except that this won’t be. My summer was truly one in a million, and I know 401 other students around the world can say the same, but more on that later.

June: I used June to catch up on the sleep I missed during the year (how I wish I had that now), and to sit around and fight with my 11 year old brother. Then, something happened on the 30th of June, leading into July.

July: Back to the 30th, no, back to April.

April-May: Then, the counselors selected me to be the representative to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) regional seminar held at EPCC in May. After signing the papers and forgetting about it, I got a message the week before, stating that some missing paperwork had jeopardized my attendance. After fixing that, I received some news from an anonymous tipster that told me I was arrogant and stuck up. This happened the day before the beginning of the seminar and I was devastated. I didn’t want to go anymore so I could work things out on campus. But that didn’t happen, and I was taken off to the college at 8:00 a.m. May 21. Best thing to ever happen to me (up to that point). In reality, it seemed only seemed like a conference with 70 other sophomores from Texas and New Mexico, but it never felt that way. I was supposed to develop community awareness and other traits, but I found something different: self-confidence. I was more confident than I’d ever been. And it was awesome.

June 30: At the closing ceremony of the seminar, the directors of the seminar announced they would be sending four ambassadors (their name for us) to the World Leadership Congress in Chicago, later in the summer. I wasn’t picked or shortlisted. My dad checked into it after we got home, and found that tuition could be paid to attend, and he said he’d foot the bill. I said no thanks, and went on, still doing nothing. Then, I see a text at 12 p.m.. Nothing out of the ordinary, but its contents were out of place. Since I had said no, my dad kept pestering me over the subject of attending. This text was the final straw. I called him and said that I’d go, if he would stop telling me about it. I found the registration form and found out that this was the last day to do it. He gave all the information I needed and I was ready to go.

July 23: A relatively uneventful three weeks passed, and then I was off. Awake by 4:30 a.m., at the airport by 5:15 a.m.. After getting to the luggage check with United, they tell me my flight’s cancelled. The earliest they can get me is a Delta itinerary, arriving at 3:00 p.m., when I’m supposed to be on the campus. My mom takes the deal, and I begin to have second thoughts, not knowing if I’ll be picked up at the airport on arrival. She tells me to suck it up and sends me off. Then, I proceed through security and to the gate, where I call my group leader to tell him I’d be delayed. At the same time, my mom was doing the same. One three hour flight later, I’m in Atlanta, and looking for my flight on the screens at the middle of the terminal. My finger crawls down the screen and when I see the word next to my flight number, my heart does the same: “Cancelled.” Two semi-hysteric phone calls to my mom and group leader later, I settle in for a lunch at the airport’s Chili’s, and then head off to the rebooking line. I’m rebooked for a 4:30 p.m. flight, getting in at 5:30 p.m.. I was able to sneak in a 30 minute nap on the plane, somewhere over Tennessee, and then, 12 hours after getting into the crapshoot called air travel, Delta Flight 1977 touches down at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I make my way off of the jetway and into the terminal, towards the baggage claim area. Then, I hear a loud cheer of “Hey HOBY!?.” I’m puzzled, looking for the source of the sound. Then I see a group, all wearing shirts saying the same thing as mine, holding up brightly-colored signs. They cheer again, and I respond with a simple, pent-up “I’m tired.” Well, they were not having any of that, and after retrieving my bag, they get up to go to another terminal, in search of other ambassadors. As it turned out, I was the last one to go back in that group, but not the last to arrive for the day. It was at that moment that I set my personal goal for the week; don’t hold back. I told myself “Don’t waste dad’s money! Be comfortable!” and I kept it at heart. The 30 minute bus ride provided perfect opportunity to interact with my bus mates, and I finally settled down into a chat with Kali from New York, seated at my right. We talked about our hometowns, different stereotypes and our expectations and then arrive at the campus, which was a sight, as it was situated right up against Lake Michigan. We disembarked and proceeded to registration, and then to find our rooms in the dorm, and our roommates, via the signs on the door. On the ride up, I was hoping for an international, as here in El Paso, the main international influence is the rest of the United States. Arriving in front of Regis Hall’s room 507, the sign has my name, next to Harrison, from Hong Kong. “Yes!” I think to myself “The first good to go my way today!” I enter and set my bags down on my bed, the one closest to the window, the one I’d wanted. Off to orientation I went, after picking up dinner, which, having selected the vegetarian option was an orange with some chips. The excitement and noise that permeates the room, however, outweighs the cries from my stomach, pleading for more food. As an icebreaker, we’re told to get some basic information from the eight people (in my case five) sitting around us, including a really unique fact about you. After some deep thinking, and referring to my promise, I finally tell the five around me that I am agnostic, and how I live in a deeply religious community. The icebreaker concludes, and the moderators invite people with the most interesting facts up to the front to share with the entire group. My five conversation buddies told me I should really go up there, and so I did. As the person in front of me spoke, my heart felt like it would break one of my ribs, and then it was my turn. Following my long-winded speech, I had no idea what to expect. My thoughts, though, were drowned out by the thunderous applause that came with my final word. It was, at that moment, that I realized I was a complete imbecile for turning down my dad’s persistent offers. “Now,” I thought “How can I top this moment?,” and the answer would soon come. The orientation let out, and we broke up into our small groups of about 11 or 12, finding our alphanumerically named groups. That being said, I had no idea the simple code of “E-1” would soon come to be synonymous with “family.” We met, went over some rules and got through a simple icebreaker, before retiring (I want extra credit for that, Maloney) for the night. When I got back, I was able to meet my roommate for the first time, and he was pretty interesting. I wanted to know more. I made my bed, and finally got to sleep at around 11:30 p.m..

July 24: A wake-up call that was extremely too early was the first thing I remember about my second day at WLC. I met with my group in the lobby of our dorm, and we headed across the street for breakfast. My day was instantly brightened, after Fran, the lovable lunchroom greeter welcomed me with such a vive for life, it woke the rest of me up that was still in bed. Although the first presentation was nice and the third, by Dr. Tererai Trent was so amazing, I can barely express it with words, the middle presentation affected me most. It was for “Rachel’s Challenge.” They said that “We exist to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion,” and that’s their mission statement. Imagine their presentation. Well, I’ll do that for you, it was very emotional, but not for me, at that time. There were people who had to leave the auditorium, and I understood why, but I never had to, nor even cried. I would confront this fact in group time, that night. The fourteen of us went back to the group room and began to talk about the day’s events. As “Rachel’s Challenge” had had a profound impact on all of us, the conversation inevitably drifted in that direction. A quick flashback, one of the exercises was to imagine your family and friends in a white room, with Rachel taking your hand to meet them. The speaker then proceeded to tell us about how he had been affected by “Rachel’s Challenge,” and shared his story of his relationship with his estranged brother. They hadn’t spoken in 10 years. He then told us how he had reestablished communication after getting involved and now they aren’t as close as they used to, but they’ve gotten better. In that moment, I saw my brother and I heading down that same path, separated and not seeing each other or even talking. In fact, he was in Lubbock when I was in Chicago, away from home, like me. I nearly lost it, but pulled myself together. Back to group time; I decided to share my thoughts about the day, and how horrible of a big brother I had been and how I wished I could take it all back. I wanted to be in Lubbock with him, telling him “I’m sorry” while hugging him. The speaker had also asked the rhetorical question “What would you do if someone you love died today? How would you feel? What would you regret?” All day it had been going through my head, which had shot into the stratosphere, being filled with my thoughts. Then, our Mexican ambassador, Loretta, brought me back down to Earth, and reminded me that there was always tomorrow (well, in our case six days) to say that, and I completely lost it. Brooke from New York, was able to console me, and through my sobbing, I managed to get out “Thank you” a few times. That night changed my entire perception of the experience, of my relationship with my brother, of my life. Being there for others was my second goal for the week, and I knew that I had achieved my first.

July 25-28: I knew that revealing my heavily-guarded secret of my lack of religion would have an impact on me, but I didn’t know that it would affect the other ambassadors. The first person to approach me about it was Talia from Ohio, who was also an agnostic and empathized with me. We talked, hugged (a commonplace at WLC) and then went our separate ways. Then I met Kat from Pennsylvania. On the second day, our first presentation was, ironically, a panel on ways that people of different faiths worked together in the community, with an Atheist, Muslim, Christian, Unitarian Universalist and Baha’i. Kat was a Unitarian Universalist and, as I was agnostic, she decided to compliment me, and the try to religiously indoctrinate me. No, in reality, she was also able to empathize with me, but her personality was so expansive. A smile appeared on my face every time she, and another person I had met, passed in the cafeteria, or bumped into while looking for seats in the auditorium. Also during this time, we had choir practice. During a quick scan of our program, I saw choir on the schedule for the second day. I thought that it would simply be an hour and a half of HOBY cheers, which I saw no problem with. In fact, I thought it would be a great wake up artist. However, to my surprise, it was an actual choir. I was nervous now, because I can’t sing to save my life, but being with 401 others, quite a lot of them who shared my predicament, I stayed strong. And in fact, I made some pretty vivid memories then: standing up with Kyra from Far West Texas, like me and like four other people landed a metaphorical egg on my face, and singing “The Impossible Dream” for the last time in Mundeline Auditorium was awesome (not synonymous with “cool). Then, it was our turn to sing for an audience. Specifically, our facilitators and the rest of the administrators; and some parents.

July 29 and 30: It was the last day we’d wake up in our dorms with our roommates, as that night, we’d go straight to our group meeting rooms and have an all-night HOBY party. After the final panel, we were dismissed to our dorms, for a “Dorm dash,” where we were supposed to spiffy up for the closing ceremony and dance, later that night. Everyone from sections E and F (the only ones in Regis Hall) met in the lobby, and then we headed out to our buses, to take us to Navy Pier. When the dinner concluded, two speeches were given, one by a United States ambassador, and one by an international ambassador (our Loretta gave that speech). Then came the pièce de résistance, our choral debut, and simultaneous finale. Quick note; including the aforementioned “The Impossible Dream,” we sang “If You’re Out There” by John Legend. At the end of the performance, there were a few people crying, realizing the entire purpose of choir. However, I had understood that before, and was a little upset that I didn’t have the same reaction, but c’est ma vie. Then we danced, but first, quick backtrack!

May 20: This far back? Yes. It’ll all make sense soon. At regionals in El Paso, we also had a dance, but I had decided to forgo it, as my dancing skills extend no further than that of snapping my fingers and moving my shoulders. However, a highly persistent Nick from Lubbock, also attended WLC, persuaded me to strut my stuff, despite my lack of any rhythm whatsoever. By the end of the night, I was sweating up a storm, as I had been shaking it to the beat the entire time. After the dance, we went into reflections, where they showed us a Focus on the Family video from the 1980’s, whose message was to get to know a person before getting ideas about them. When the video concluded, they asked us to share our thoughts on the weekend. Now, it’s time for a flash forward.

July 28: I’m sorry this is so confusing, but it’ll really make perfect sense soon. We also had reflections at WLC, but they were different from what we had in El Paso. Five of the staff members shared their stories about HOBY, ranging from finding self-acceptance of sexuality to mourning the death of a grandfather. We then saw a video, entailing what we’d done up to that point in Chicago. I lost by the first chorus of the stripped down rendition of “Firework” that was playing over the photos. I continued weeping until we exited the auditorium. Before that though, we were given a chance to say thank you to the people we had met. I said my “Thank you”s, some of which turned out to be goodbyes as well, to most everyone I had met. Then, I found the other Nick from Far West Texas. Back, really quickly.

May 20: Nick was the first to reflect. He mentioned how he had agreed with our first speaker, who gave us five principles to live by, one of which was prayer (I completely disagreed). But then he brought up my story, without naming me. It was like he was calling me out, so I had to respond. I mentioned it was me that he had motivated, and at that mentioning, applause broke out through the hall. I don’t really remember my speech, but I do remember I ended it with “Live long and prosper!.” Back to July 28!

July 28: When I found Nick, I was able to thank him, for changing my life, by changing my outlook. Now, back to the present, which is really the past, but…

July 29-30: During the dance, I stayed on the fringes of the main dance floor, which I though was just a dance circle, but ended up being a grinding circle, of all things! However, I was trying to find ambassadors having problems that I had, and being their Nick (wow, that’s really confusing). Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary, which kind of disappointed me though, because I wanted to make such a profound impact on someone else’s life. At 11:00 p.m., we headed to the buses, back to our group all-nighter, where our group, now given the moniker “The Little Dwengers” after our facilitator’s name, Eric Dwenger, was systematically torn apart. First, it was Rachel from China, leaving for the airport at 2:00. Then our Taiwanese ambassador, Norbit left us an hour later. During the time we were all together, we passed around little notebooks we had gotten on the first day, writing in them like yearbooks, while also working on a puzzle of Chicago. Quick side note, Chris from Canada, Emily from Massachusetts, Chrissy from Pennsylvania, Jason from California, Cattie from Ohio, Virginia from Kentucky, Brooke, Loretta and Eric finished the puzzle. At 4:55, not only I, but Dylan from Georgia and Brent from Nebraska, were called on to leave. Eric notified us to start saying our goodbyes, and at that moment, without anyone other than me seeming to notice, the iPod playing had switched to Coldplay’s ballad “Yellow.” It provided a better backdrop than anything I could ever drum up, and as I was in tears, yet a third time, it all came back to me. The times we had walked through the city with a drag-queen-esque kindergarten rope, to detouring three blocks south of our destination during a scavenger hunt, all the moments I had made with my new family, all the bonds, were being physically destroyed. Then, it was time to say goodbye to Eric in the lobby. The three of us were lucky, we had each other still. We retrieved our bags from our rooms, and left Regis for the last time. Dylan and I also had to say goodbye to Brent, as he was flying out of Midway and we were both out of O’Hare. Then the 30 minutes back. Whereas the first bus ride had been a vocal brouhaha of experiences and expectations, this one was silent. No laughter, not that many smiles. Just quiet introspection that was sometimes shared with the others on the bus. A highlight (in my head) was the suggestion that we try and make #grindcircle a trending topic on Twitter. As the bus pulled up to the terminal, I learned I would finally have to say goodbye to my last “Dwenger” link, Dylan. As I walked to the United terminal, for the first time in a long time, I truly felt alone. My closest friends gone, I tried to bond with the other United passengers, which was marginally successful. I came to terms with my loss after falling asleep prior to takeoff on my flight. For good reason too, as United had put me in a totally separate line for needing to pay my bag charge with cash rather than credit, and security wasn’t that short either. I sort of forgot what I was supposed to be doing on a plane, and was confused that my seatmate was conversing in some Slavic language with the row in front of us. An hour and a half later, United Express Flight 3729 touched down at El Paso International Airport (not that it has international destinations), and I was home.

Today: When I checked my e-mail, I found out I was one of the last 25 to register for WLC. Knowing that I’d barely missed it, was quite unsettling. Just to finish, WLC was a place where all judgments, all prerequisites for friendship and acceptance, all limitations, all previous ideas were taken at the door and thrown away, never to be seen again. The bonds we made were meant to be broken physically, but we were all friends in an emotional, and Facebook way. Finally, I would like to just say, that to everyone who met or even thinks they met me, I need to say thank you, for being part of the best thing to ever happen to me. I hope I was the same for you, and, final finally, I love each and every one of you, I miss you constantly and I can’t wait to see you again. Love, Nick, E-1, El Paso, Texas.

If you’ve made it to this point, congratulations. Either you read what I wrote or just scrolled to the bottom of the page. Bye.

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Posted in HOBY, Personal Stuff, Writings

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