Do or Do Not
Fifteen years before my trip to the cath lab, I awoke and rose before the hot Texas sun climbed above the horizon. There was something a little unusual about that morning – as freshman cadets we were conditioned to be constantly harassed by the upperclassmen, a cheerful component of an education meant to reduce our counterproductive reactions to stress. This morning the harassment was suspiciously minimal, aside from having to dress in our formal uniforms for morning exercises. We were led out of the dorm in silence where a much larger number of the juniors and seniors were waiting for us outside than we would have normally expected.
As a unit, we started with the most familiar of military exercises: the run. First a call to march, followed shortly by a call to march twice as much. The pace of the run was slightly less strenuous than usual, probably because the seniors were leading the run as opposed to the sophomores and the route wasn’t our typical run on the boundaries of campus, rather we were running among the buildings that had seen a hundred years of Aggies being educated. Unfortunately, I stepped a little awkwardly off a curb in the dress shoes that never really fit me and quickly fell behind as my unit ran off without me.
At a slow jogging pace, I watched as my unit ran across campus and out of view. One of the upperclassmen had hung back to stay with me, which wasn’t normal at all and he wasn’t one of the cadets that had any trouble keeping up on the tougher runs. Eventually my calf unwound itself, allowing me to run again. Thanks to the unusual route, I didn’t know where exactly my unit had gone, but resolved to rejoin my classmates and headed for the center of campus as my best bet to spot them. My watcher paced behind me curious about where I was going, but after a few minutes, our unit was barely in sight through the early morning fog.
He yelled at me as I ran towards the unit and made it clear that if I rejoined them I would face severe consequences. This was pretty much my sign that rejoining my classmates was exactly what I should be doing. I sprinted across campus to the surprise of my watcher and my classmates and reformed at the back of the block. Pointed whispers warned me not to drop out of the block again, but I managed to stay with the group even though the leaders decided to pick up the pace in an effort to shake me out of it once more. Eventually we ended up in front of the building at the center of campus, where we were made to halt and file inside.
We freshmen lined the university’s circular seal on the floor of the rotunda facing out. This morning was the ceremony where the cadets were being given the brass pieces for their uniform that indicated their acceptance by their unit. Our cadet leader stood before each one of the freshman and told them something that the unit respected about them: a personality trait, an exceptional anecdote from having spent hours training us, or a reading of a high accomplishment. As the last cadet to join the unit and the last in the block that morning, the cadet leader came to me last. He stumbled for a half second after he announced my name aloud, where he was quick to praise each of the other cadets.
I could hardly blame him for this. I was not a model cadet. I joined halfway through the year, skipping most of freshman indoctrination. I never took anything particularly seriously. I wasn’t very good at much of what was expected from cadets. I didn’t shy away from punishment at all, nor did I really understand until later what exactly the tradition of corps life was trying to accomplish. But he only stumbled for half a second. He was quick to announce to the unit what about me they respected:
“You have heart.”
Thinking back, this is the phrase that most people that have to say something good about me have said. It was not the first time I had heard it, nor would it be the last. You often only see “heart” in others when you’ve disliked them enough to give them a really hard time, but they take it, hang in there, and still try to do the right thing. This was the most common praise I’ve received throughout my life and I can’t help but to hear its echoes in memory whenever I think about what I’m going to do with that heart now.