African American writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston spent a good chunk of her childhood sitting on fences. In her memoir, Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston describes how she used to sit on the rickety old fence that marked the perimeter of her family's farm with her thumb determinedly stuck out in hitchhiker position. Every now and then a car or an old pick-up would take pity on the young Zora and pull over and offer her a ride. Where ya goin' these kindly country folks would ask the little black girl. And Zora would smile and say, Where ever you want to take me!
I can recall several distinct times in my life when I've felt that desperate, ready to go energy of a fence sitting hitchhiker. Between my freshman and sophomore years of college I decided to jump from The American University of Paris to Brigham Young University in Utah. The naive, nineteen year old version of me assumed that those BYU folks would feel down right privileged to have a transfer student from Paris. So what if I'd spent my freshman year savoring the glamorous, European life instead of studying? I had a few C's on my transcript, but I was confident that little oversight would pale in comparison to my better qualities.
Only my GPA did matter, and BYU couldn't have cared less how glamorous my year in Paris had been, and I was promptly rejected. But wait a minute, I argued with the admissions department. You sent me an acceptance letter when I applied as a senior in high school? Just because I chose to go to France for a year first, you can't just change your mind like that. A year ago you wanted me. So I got a few C's while in France. It's still the same old me! They still didn't care. They sent me a second rejection letter urging me not to bother them again until my GPA better met their criteria.
I felt so deflated, and yet somehow my disappointment became the very thing that shaped my resolve. It's surprising how the times you feel the most adrift often become the times when your character begins to take shape. That year quickly became the year of my life when I did some of my most important growing up. I suppose sometimes we're all forced to sit on the fence and watch other cars fly past us on their way to exciting places. Occasionally you stick out your thumb and get to ride along for a few miles, but mostly you understand that you'll be back on the fence in the morning, looking into the horizon and wondering what might be in store.
These fence-sitting days never last long, although in the moment it feels eternal. Looking back at those months when I was forced to swallow my pride and toil away at a local community college in order to eradicate the ill effects of those malicious C's, I can recognize how few comforts I had to fall back on. It was mostly work, with humble pie for dinner every night, and yet what happened during those long months was transforming. And it wasn't receiving an acceptance letter to BYU that altered my course, that was simply a happy side effect. It was what changed inside of me and where I decided to go from there. There is nothing so delicious as telling yourself, When I get off this fence I'm going to....and then later on making that resolution come true. For me, it's what makes my fence-sitting days bearable. The possibilities are endless!