Students who come to my office see a hodgepodge of things. Of course, there is the wall with my diplomas displayed, the packed bookshelf, the desk cluttered with folders full of student papers, and the computer area littered with lists and reminders. There's my high shelf with pictures of the incredible people I had the honor to meet or interview at Southeast, the poster from our 2016 TEDx event...and a plant that thrives on my neglect, apparently. There's my window shelf with the fan one of my international students gave me, paintings by my Uncle Paul, and pictures of my family---including my dogs. Then there is this tiny bulletin board that holds a few buttons with sayings that make me smile or remind me of special events. It's pretty much tucked away at my eye level when I am working, so not everybody may notice it. But there's a post-it note there that says "Clear the Marbles." It's near a picture of my Uncle Denny and a button that we handed out at his funeral.
I had never heard the term "clear the marbles" until I was helping my cousin Bill write his dad's eulogy. My Uncle was a writer for my hometown paper and one of his many beats had been the Kankakee Speedway. The guys in my family love stock car racing. I support their love, but I never wanted to go out to the noisy Friday night races, so I had not witnessed this act. My cousin Bill described it this way, "In dirt track racing, when all the cars are gathered, racing around the low side of the track, their tires spray loose, wet bunches of dirt, that are called marbles. These marbles are flung onto the high side of the track. If a single driver attempts to break away from the line of traffic, it's really like driving over a road of marbles. You lose speed and it's hard to control. There are moments of panic. You need another driver to help clean off the marbles and make this new, exciting path something usable...something smoother, something better, something faster. For so much of my dad's life, I feel like he was trying to convince other people to join him in clearing away the marbles." When I look over at that post-it, it reminds me to think about how I can go out of my way to look for the good in life and in people so I might try to make their lives a little smoother if I can.
This weekend, #metoo started trending to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault. The idea was that if people who have been sexually assaulted or harassed would tweet or post "me too," it might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. It's been heartbreaking to see the number of status updates containing the phrase. I was hesitant to post it myself because I was trying to recall one particularly terrible instance and realized how much I have minimized and tried to shrug off inappropriate actions so that they just blend into a generic life experience. It was yet another example of the marbles people are traversing over in this life. We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to clear these marbles. How can we create a new path? How can we find a high groove where instead of becoming defensive or blaming someone for their pain, we look for a way to make it better?