Peace, Be Still
A friend from High School posted a picture of Tom Izzo, the Head Coach of the Michigan State Spartan Basketball team on her timeline this week, and it sent me down memory lane. Tom and I were friends twenty-three years ago, and he saved my butt, and my sanity too, when I was studying for the bar exam in July of 1989. Tom is not only a gem of a coach, he is a really fine human being, and a darn good judge of character and capacity in a person. Back then, he was suspicious of lawyers, but he really liked me, and I was about to become one. I didn’t think much of his job as an assistant basketball coach back then either, but I respected the heck out of him.
Something really awful and unexpected happened to me about three weeks before the July Bar exam. I hit an emotional wall, and I couldn’t study anymore. Worse than that, I wouldn’t let myself do anything else. It was a painful paralysis that came over me, and I really didn’t know what to do. My father said what he always did, “just come home sweetie”, and it was tempting, but wouldn’t solve the problem. My friends called offering me libations and advice, but I knew that wasn’t what I needed either. I needed to listen to my voice and I didn’t have a clue how to do that. I knew how to perform well, and figure out what needed to be done to get the grade. I didn’t care much for taking care of myself, because I really didn’t have to. I was young and healthy and recovered from all nighters and occasional hangovers, just fine.
Tom called me from an airplane one weekend, just because he could, and he was really excited. It was 1989 and cell phones were pretty new. I felt like a rock star.
“Fry!” He shouted like I couldn’t hear him.
“Where the heck are you, Tom?” I laughed too, which felt really good. Then He said the most tender thing to me.
“Fry, I know I’ve pushed you pretty hard lately and I just wanted to say that I have never heard you say that you wanted to be a lawyer. So, if you really don’t, then don’t take the test now. You can take it later. Come over Sunday night and we’ll have dinner and watch a movie, okay. I gotta go Fry, be good.”
I cried when I hung up. He gave me permission; something I couldn’t give myself.
We did watch a movie that Sunday night, and it involved lawyers. “That’s not how it happens!”, I exclaimed as a felt a passion stir within me. The next morning, I prayed. And then something shifted. I wanted my life back, so I had to take the test. Energy blocked before that flowed through my body and brain again, and that was a very good thing. I had work to do. I needed every second left to study.
The Bar exam was a neurotic’s nightmare because you didn’t know what they were going to test you on, and it was an intense two-day ordeal. On the Saturday before the Tuesday exam, Tom called again to see how I was. He was emphatic that I stop studying and rest; he could feel that I was ready. I thought he was crazy, but he insisted and he took me with him on a day recruiting trip out of town. “NO BOOKS ALLOWED.” God Bless him, it was a break I sorely needed. I did pick up a book before the exam, but without the same level of frenetic activity that distorted my focus. I was clearer, and I actually felt okay.
I ended up passing that test after all, and with a very high score that shocked me. Even though I had wasted valuable time, and had a painful meltdown.
The funny thing is, I forgot to ask myself the real question about why that happened for many years. I didn’t listen to the larger cry of my soul either, as I pushed myself through work that was demanding, but not really fulfilling. I had lost touch with my good friend Tom, and I hadn’t yet learned how to befriend myself, by giving myself the permission of a choice that may look objectively like failure, in order to stay healthy.
I have found that friend today, and for that I am eternally grateful. That friend is really God, as I sit in silence when I feel the world pulling me between two polarizing options. I know I don’t have to act, or push myself through anything until I get clear. I get clear when I take the time; actually a time out, and let that true voice emerge from within me. I simply make bad decisions when I am wracked with anxiety or pressure, so I know to give my self time, and a deep listen. This approach has changed my life, and enabled me to know real freedom. There are deal breakers that I respect today, and I have a good sense of what they are. I must get to peace before I get to the yes, and I get to peace by being, not doing.
I face resistance to this approach, but I live through it. Peace is no little gift. Jesus said it as he entered a gathering, and as a benediction when he left one, or completed a healing.
We’ve been in the midst of a massive heat wave that has rendered me edgy and listless. I’ve taken a time out. The other thing that I’ve learned in recovery that has freed me from countless injuries to myself or others, is that the world will go on just fine without me while I take care of my inner self.
I miss Tom a whole bunch, but I don’t need friends like him to give me permission to do what is right for me anymore. I don’t need my butt saved like I used to, and that feels really good too.