Trigger warnings, safe spaces, and middle-age orneriness
Dear College/University Student, Please forgive me if I don't understand your need for Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces. Forgive me not understanding how vital it is to your mental health and wellbeing to be sheltered from all adversity and opposing ideas. Let me explain where I am coming from and maybe, if in your safe space, you are allowed to read this, you will understand.
(Trigger warning: real-life ahead)
You see, I was 17 when I knew which girl I wanted to make a life with. I know that sounds (and probably is) silly, but I was not going to take any chances on her getting away. At 18, I proposed marriage, she accepted, and nine months later, we were wed.
Here I was, in a hardship of my own making: married and in need of higher education. We split a Ryder truck with another young couple bent on becoming ministers, loaded everything we owned in the world in our half of that big, yellow beast, and headed straight for Springfield, Missouri and Baptist Bible College.
(Did I mention we had been married a couple years by then and had an infant baby girl in tow?)
No Safe Spaces at BBC
We settled into the "married dorms" on the campus of BBC. We were fortunate. We got a ground floor apartment. Well, we thought we were fortunate until the maintenance team did their first mandatory pest control spraying at the dorms. You spray roaches on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd floors and they head straight for the ground floor, where the nasty little suckers die.
My wife had an infant to care for and would soon be pregnant with daughter number two. She stayed home to take care of all of that while I signed up for 18 hours of college courses and landed a job at Vermillion Walnut Company, where I made a dime over minimum wage. I was in class each day until noon or 1 pm and at work from 3:30 to midnight. After that, I studied, read books, wrote papers, and, on occasion, slept. We filled up our weekends with church activities, more studying, reading, writing, and finding free or very cheap ways to entertain ourselves. (Doing donuts on an icy church parking lot in our '69 Plymouth Satellite or playing balloon volleyball over the couch or table ping pong with our Ryder truck friends, the Days.)
In the middle of this hectic, difficult, but oh-so-rewarding college experience, our second daughter was born...with Spina Bifida. We were exhilarated and devastated all at the same time. Within two months of her birth, I was obliged to suspend my college education in the first semester of our Sophomore year. We headed home to Dallas, where our baby girl underwent the first of many surgeries. That first one was necessary just to give her a chance of walking.
Safe Spaces in California? Not for us!
We licked our wounds and sought solace in family. I went to work at a Revco Drug Store as assistant store manager. The ministry we had been preparing ourselves for seemed a million miles away.
Actually, it was only about 1500 miles away. The pastor for whom I had worked when we were first married — before we headed for Springfield — had moved to a church in Porterville, California and needed someone to pastor the youth and act as administrator for the Christian school.
He called me. I prayed about it while Donya packed. We were back in ministry...and a long, long way from home.
One year in Porterville and, at just 23 years of age, a church in Turlock, California extended an invitation to me to become their "senior" pastor! I accepted, but I still needed more training, more education...a degree.
Liberty University in Virginia was on the cutting edge of off-campus education. They opened the School of Lifelong Learning (LUSLL) and I was among the first to enroll in this fully accredited education...via VHS! Well, mostly VHS. I did have to make a couple of cross-country trips to Virginia to take consolidated courses on campus.
I was the pastor of a fledgling congregation that could not fully support me. I was the father of two (a third daughter would come along before I received my degree). I had to work the courses at a deliberate, plodding pace.
Consequently, I squeezed a four-year college education into eleven years — eleven years cram-packed with adventure, misadventure, hardships, setbacks, church fights, a church split, angry deacons, hostile deacon wives, glorious victories, heart-rending defeats, hospital visits, surgeries (daughter Holly), long stints between long trips home...
Plenty of triggers were pulled. The only warning was maybe a "heads up" right before life beaned you with another fastball. The only safe spaces we found were in each others' arms...and in the arms of Jesus.
Better late than never.
My formal education in institutes of higher learning had begun in 1980. It was now 1991. I was 30 years old. My dad had just suddenly died at age 51. We had returned "home" to Texas after seven years in California. I was the pastor of a church in Paris, Texas when the degree I had fought tooth and nail across three states and thousands of miles to achieve finally arrived in the mail.
So, forgive me, my Ivy League friend, if I do not empathize with your need to be sheltered from "trigger" words or phrases. Forgive me if I don't quite understand how some snot-nosed, silver-spoon-slobbering brat whose parents worked themselves to the bone to provide you with a free education is so vulnerable that exposure to an opposing idea can melt you into a soup of sorrow and confusion. Forgive me if I don't "get" how a kid who has never dirtied a fingernail or broken a sweat in a day's work needs to be buffered from the harsh reality that not everyone drinks the same stupid Kool-Aid you do.
Buck up, Buckaroo.
You know what? Don't forgive me. I don't apologize. I don't get it and I don't want to.
I just wish you would have the opportunity to cherish a life built on love, sweat, tears, joys, sorrows, difficulties, determination, commitment, perseverance. Then, you wouldn't need safe spaces and trigger warnings. You would BE the trigger. You would call the shots. You would take your lumps. You would have something of substance to hold dear, something to believe, something to defend, something to declare. You would be able to stand your ground despite opposition, to stay your course despite contrary winds.
Someday, you would look back on the life you scratched out by sheer force of will, grit, endurance, faith, hope, and love with as much sentimentality as I do. And on that someday, you would look the next generation in the eye and say to them what I have said to you.
"Get over it, kid. This is life. Get out there and live it. Figure it out. No one ever changed the world for the better from a safe space."