Tonight was the annual holiday reception at Lake Forest College. It's always one of my favorite events hosted by President Schutt for the Trustees, Alumni Board, faculty and staff. It's held at the Glen Rowan House, which is an historic beautiful old Lake Forest estate donated to the College many years ago. It's decorated for the holidays by the Deerpath Garden Club of Lake Forest and the food is always fabulous as well. I love getting the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with so many wonderful people I volunteer with all year long and always make sure to attend.
I arrived on campus on time, parked across Sheridan Road from Glen Rowan House and waited for the shuttle so I could avoid walking in the rain. A few moments after my arrival, my former Multi-variable Calculus professor (now retired), Bob Troyer, and his wife got out of their car, offered to share their umbrella with me, and we began to walk over to the party. Fortunately, Professor Troyer didn't remember me and that he'd failed me almost 20 years ago and I didn't mention it as we got reacquainted and made small talk during our walk.
We crossed Sheridan Road and made our way toward Glen Rowan on the sidewalk. Just as we approached the driveway there was a huge puddle that I couldn't avoid without walking in the mud and snow. Feeling I'd be on shaky ground in heels in the mud and snow, I forged ahead through the puddle. Unfortunately, the sidewalk was uneven as it joined the driveway, I lost my balance and fell flat on my face in front of my former professor and the College's security force.
Face down in the puddle, security immediately helped me up and wanted to know if I was okay or if I needed medical attention. As far as I could tell at that moment, other than being soaked from head to toe, only my ego was bruised. What I couldn't figure out though was how to walk into this crowded party looking like I'd just lost at mud wrestling and asked security to take me to my car so I could go home.
For the first and only time in my life, I sat in the back of a squad car as I was taken back to my car, humiliated. I started texting friends to see if anyone could help me fix myself up so I could show my face again on campus. When no one responded, I sent a couple of texts making my apologies, explaining what happened, and that I was going home.
While I was sitting in my car catching my breath before driving home, a friend who lives in Lake Forest called me back saying he wasn't home, but could go home and help me out. I thanked him, but said I'd made up my mind to go home. We hung up and I sat in my car with a few tears of shame running down my face and pondered what to do. I really wanted to go to the party, but didn't want to go in the shape I was in. In preparation for the 30 minute drive home, I decided to take off my coat so I wasn't sitting in a pool of dirty water. Standing outside my car, I realized that while the bottom half of my dress and coat were soaked and both knees were very bloody, the top half of my outfit was fine. I realized that maybe the night could be salvaged after all and decided to go back to the party.
I sent my friend Derek a text saying I was on my way, but needed a first aid kit. When I walked in the door, Derek had it waiting for me and once I cleaned myself up, no one knew what had happened.
About an hour later, I ran into Professor Troyer and his wife. They saw me across the room and immediately made a beeline to tell me how happy they were that I'd come back. As we stood chatting, I looked at Professor Troyer and said the greatest lesson I ever learned at the College was how to pick myself up after falling down and that lesson stuck with me all these years later. I may have been mortified, but I wasn't going to let a lost earring, blood knees, and soaked dress stop me from having a good time. He said he agreed that learning how to recover from falling down (literally or figuratively) was an important life lesson.
What I didn't tell Professor Troyer was that by giving me an F in Multi-variable Calculus all those years ago, he'd been the one to teach me that lesson. I didn't know I'd failed his class (or even come close to failing) until my grades arrived on Christmas Eve. As a result of the F, I got fired from my job as a Resident Assistant, had to find new housing on campus (I had to give up the RA room I had and as an upper-classman couldn't live in the freshman dorm) and new job, and was forced to take summer school rather than spend the summer working at Watervale.
Almost 20 years ago, I had to figure out how to get back up after the first failure of my life and the public embarrassment of losing a great deal that was important to me. Tonight I got to relearn the lesson of how to gracefully get up after literally falling flat on my face. And just like 20 years ago, I had wonderful friends around to help me brush off my knees and ego, get me a glass of wine, and laugh with me at the moment I needed it most.