David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Ashamed Of The Story I Told

October 12, 2018

(A sequel, of sorts, to "It's Probably Nothing")

It wasn't nothing. It was something.  Something very important.

Sometimes a person reaches out because of need, because of confidence in us, because of the way they perceive a respectful relationship. Sometimes that relationship is a lot more significant in their mind than in ours.

Let me explain without being so obtuse. With great pain, I have made this page, as well as the “It’s Probably Nothing” page, not public so that the innocent remain unaware.

So, ten years ago at Davenport University I fielded a complaint from a student and a mother about a class. Standard situation for a Provost. I refused to change the grade, but offered to mentor the student. I really can’t remember how much I mentored before I was shuffled out of DU. And once in the last 10 years the student reached out to me, while here at SMC, which was to write to a section of the armed forces explaining the student’s experiences at DU. I did but very honestly.

Thus, when the student reached out this week to speak specifically to me about coming to SMC, I wondered about the true intention.

I spent 24 hours envisioning a worst case scenario, fighting off my paranoid feelings with jokes about "go ahead, try and kill me. I have already proven myself to be Rasputin" (insert your favorite movie villain laugh).  I wondered about what the last song going through my head ever in my life might be (I think it was likely to be for who knows what reason, Midnight Oil's "Power and the Passion").  I left conversations with important people in my life wondering, "is that going to be the last sentence they remember me uttering."  I made checklists of my final choice of ties, final meals (half a bagel, grapes, orange juice), final cups of coffee.

None of this was overtly maudlin, mind you (O.k. maybe there was one maudlin moment, but that is between me and my shadow as they might say). It was more just my coping mechanism as I waited for a scheduled meeting with someone who I thought might be harboring some long-time grudge.  Heck, the fact that I posted "It's Probably Nothing" speaks to both my overly dramatic self balancing with my "this will really only work if I can come back and respond 24 hours later."

Here's the thing. I learned something much more important today.  I learned that the impact a person can have on someone else's life, even when we think our impact was minimal or even negative, is hard to predict when that other person's life moves on.  That moment of frustration on my part, for having to deal with a complaint ten years ago, doesn't even compare to what was a moment of satisfaction on behalf of the other person for "being heard."  Ten years later, as someone I treated with kindness (even if it didn't feel like it to me) returned to thank me for the kindness and to see if I could further help, I envisioned darkness when the truth was light.

For people who have reported to me and had to deal with many more student complaints than I ever have, as they are at a lower level where so many complaints rise and die, I have often reminded them that a student often just wants to be heard. That if we can convince them they have been heard, they can walk away with a grade not changed, or the complaint in essence not addressed.  I guess God decided to wait 10 years to give me a hard knock in the head to remind me. Still, I am deeply ashamed:

Maybe I care a little

Perhaps I'm ashamed of the story I told.*

* Mark Mulcahy.  If you don't know the lovely Polaris song "Ashamed Of The Story I Told," stop!  In fact, listen to this amazing version by The National, one of the few times I think a cover beats out the original.