It must be human nature to judge people and places before we've ever met them or taken the time to go there. As open minded as I think I am, I am regularly reminded that my preconceived notions about experiences I've not yet experienced make me as human as everybody else. How I learn about the error of my judgments is always an interesting story.
This weekend, Joe and I took our oldest two sons on a college trip to Ohio. Michael, our high school senior, applied to and was accepted by two schools about five hours from Pittsburgh. We scrambled to throw together an impromptu visit and hit the road Friday afternoon after school got out. None of us knew what to expect, but secretly, quietly, we'd all made our own judgments about the places we would soon be visiting. We were all prepared to be wholly unimpressed. Why? I have no idea.
One of the schools was in a pretty remote part of Ohio. The final 20 miles or so leading to campus was as desolate as you could imagine. We passed thousands of acres of dried cornfields and a barren vista that left us all feeling pretty sketchy about what we were getting in to. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Michael looking out the window, his shoulders slouched and a dejected look on his face. And then we hit town. The ONLY town. A beautiful town! Michael all but gasped from the back seat as we drank in a spectacular view none of us was expecting.
The school was historic, but state of the art at the same time, with neat, red-bricked buildings, crisp white paint and lots and lots of windows. There were large grassy quads, statuesque trees that must have stood there for centuries and a student body that seemed happy. Comfortable. At home. We got out of the car and started walking around and I watched as my oldest son's shoulders relaxed. A warm smile washed across his face. He had found a possible future.... in the middle of nowhere Ohio. On a cool, spring day beneath a sun-splashed sky, Michael seemed to stand taller. More confident. Proud, almost. It was awesome. And totally unexpected.
Why was it unexpected? Did the school have a poor reputation? Had I heard people comment negatively about it? No. I had a preconceived idea about it. And I was wholly wrong.
We do this to each other, you know. We make decisions about one another without giving any benefit, without opening the door to a conversation, without trying to see another possibility. I learned that this weekend. We must give each other – each possibility and road to somewhere – a chance.
I know college is an incredible time of growth for a young person. It turns out to be a remarkable opportunity for parents to receive a little education, too. So here's to Opportunity... to seizing it with an open mind! Sometimes a painfully long drive past endless acres of cornfields is just the road to take when the view ahead is something you could have never imagined.