In studying Algebra, we often focus on linear equations, equations that relate one variable to another by simply multiplying the first variable by some value (and perhaps adding or subtracting a constant.) Such equations are easy to work with, although those of us who study relationships in real data recognize that we often need to make severe assumptions in order to fit real life variables into such linear equations. For, if we look closely at our data, we realize that life is usually not linear, but often takes twisted turns, much like the path taken by the tornado through our campus in the last weeks of July.
When our campus was devastated by a tornado that wrecked our athletic center, we were all left in a state of shock. Trees more than one hundred years old were left resting sideways, and paths in a wooded area used by the Biology department to study wildlife were destroyed. For quite a while, there was a sense of disbelief that spread across campus. It took our college president, Sister Diana Stano, OSU, to remind us that we were lucky that no one was harmed in the storm, and that what was destroyed could be replaced. And so, the semester began.
We are now halfway through the first semester after the storm, and things are beginning to find a “new normal.” Broken trees have been removed, windows replace, and walls that had been impaled with flying glass have been patched and repainted. A large sign saying “Building Closed: Do Not Enter” still blocks the favorite shortcut across campus, and many faculty are saying that they are getting additional exercise this year because of the need to walk more than we are used to in order to get to our classes. I am not happy that it takes so long to get around our tiny campus, but I admit that I do feel healthier.
Some buildings are still closed, and modular units are being used to temporarily replace the offices of those left with no place to hang their helmets and hats. Just one year ago, such structures would have been unobservable from across campus, blocked by huge Weeping Willows that bordered our pond. However, those trees are gone now, and the view across the pond is now unobstructed. I took my daughter to campus a few weeks ago, and she was amazed at how different the view was.
Just last week, as I strolled past the pond, noting the repaired fountain in the middle and breathing in the tranquility that it offers us, I was surprised to notice that a familiar figure had returned to campus. Standing on the banks of the pond was a Blue Heron that had called Ursuline College its home for quite a while, but had been missing in the days after the tornado. When I looked into the matter, I learned what the Blue Heron means to some of the people who have lived on this continent the longest. The Blue Heron is a bird that possesses symbolism in the Native American traditions, and I was intrigued to learn that it is a symbol of self-reliance and self-determination.
The presence of the Blue Heron makes me reflect on how non-linear the lives are of many in the Ursuline community, and on how far some of us have come. I think my academic career which began with a call to my sister with me muttering something like “ where am I?” and quickly progressed to my first semester at a tenure track job being spent in the neurosurgery floor of a hospital. I think of my daughter, whose life began in foster care before adoption brought her home to be our child. And I think of the students at Ursuline, many of whom come to us after very non-linear paths through life and school, as is common for young people of their generation. And of course, I think of the now very non-linear walls of the building that used to be our gym, and of the athletic center that was destroyed one early morning in July, as the rest of the world slept. As I contemplate the many nonlinear paths of those around me, I have to believe that the Blue Heron, which represents self-reliance in the midst of struggles, has, in choosing to dwell with us at Ursuline College, found exactly the right place to call home.