During the summer of 2002, I was deeply immersed in the splendor of college life. I signed up for a physics course, drank lots of cheap beer, waited tables at a local restaurant and filled my free time with whatever opportunity came knocking that day. Tubing down the New River? Sure! Hiking the Cascades? Sounds great! Lazy day at the pool? Lovely! The world was mine to behold.
However, physics immediately began to present problems to my carefree lifestyle. I would read assigned chapters and realize at the end of each paragraph that I had no idea what I had just read. Weekly homework assignments were difficult for me. My mind was a jumbled mess of Newton’s Laws, velocity, acceleration, and torque. There were too many formulas, too many word problems, and not enough beer.
Thankfully, I quickly developed a strategy. Group work was encouraged by the professor, so I decided that if I could find a group of intelligent people to work with on weekly assignments, I had a chance to pass the class. Somehow, I struck gold. I infiltrated a group of math-minded scholars who did not mind me riding their coattails through the class. My low grade started creeping upwards.
Enter, Jamie Garst. He had also signed up to take physics that summer. We had crossed paths a few times in class, but one weekend, he ate at Famous Anthony’s and I just happened to be his waitress. I brought out coffee, eggs, and sausage gravy with a rushed smile. In all likelihood, the food I delivered that morning was either burnt, cold, the wrong order, or some combination of the three. The next day, we saw each other after class and connected that I had waited on him the day before. He invited me to work with his homework group, and I agreed to meet with them later that week.
Working with his group, I maintained the same strategy I used with my original group. Keep quiet. Write down the answers. Say something funny every now and then. It was a success. With the homework finished, Jamie and I decided to go to TCBY for some ice cream. We walked outside to my 1990 Geo Prizm and found that the passenger seat was soaking wet. I had left the window down, and a summer rain storm had blown through, leaving drenched upholstery in its wake. We found pool towels to cover the seat and drove off. What I most remember about that day is that I was comfortable in my own skin immediately. I knew I didn’t need to worry about what radio station I was listening to or the kind of car I drove or the wetness of the seat he sat on. He made me feel just fine with being myself. It has been that way ever since.
The next day, I ran errands and when I got back to my apartment, there was a message on the answering machine. I pressed play and heard his voice fill the room, “Hi, Sarah! Just wanted you to know how much fun I had with you yesterday. I hope we can meet up again soon. I’ll talk to you later!” I swooned while my roommate questioned, “So, who is he? Who is that guy?” To this day, Jamie claims that this message is not an indicator of his good character but more of a strategy he employed to reel me in. Whatever it was, it worked!
Later that same week, I met with my original homework group. I brought along the work I had completed earlier in the week, finally feeling like I might be able to contribute something. We sat around a large table while they scanned over it and eventually concluded, “Most of this is wrong.” I laughed and then they swiftly got started solving physics word problems, correctly.
What had been so wrong for my group ended up being exactly right for me. Isn’t that the way of the world? Sometimes, what first looks to be wrong can grow and shift into being exactly right in ways, yet unseen.
Exactly right doesn’t mean it has been easy or perfect or elegant. It has been none of these. But it has been real. It’s been full of joy and disappointment, surprises, adventure and unremarkable moments. The hardest and the best of it all hinging on parenting our wild and precious children. 14 years ago, I could have never imagined that my botched homework would be the beginning of what has been one of my favorite adventures in life.