Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

Archive for October 2013

A Farewell Toast to an Incredible Year

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vanillaporterI don’t know how common it is for adults to seriously reflect on a year of life gone by as a birthday approaches.  Maybe it doesn’t happen that often; after all, there are birthday plans to be made – maybe dinner and drinks with friends – and the normal course of daily life with regard to work and family.

I’ll admit I haven’t thought much about years gone by as they pass.  All too often, I didn’t want to spend time reflecting on something bad or unfortunate that transpired between Oct. 2 and Oct. 1 of each year.

As I am writing this, I am bidding adios to age 47 and bienvenue to birthday number 48.  But the gravity of what has happened to me in the preceding 12 months, and how it has transformed me personally, demands far more than a casual couple of moments of memory search.

Simply stated, I realize I may be saying goodbye to the most pivotal year of my life thus far.

Twelve months ago, I was just someone barely making ends meet while trying to achieve a long-desired goal of finishing a college degree program, one that still appeared far into the horizon on Oct. 2, 2012.  And while I knew I would like to go on to a graduate program the following year, just where and for what remained a mystery.

I had carried similar feelings about the year to come on many birthdays in the past, that sense of hoping for better (or at least no worse) than what the previous year had brought me, hoping for clues to fulfillment and directions toward true happiness.

That is exactly how age 47 was different from any other.  With the pace of a Porsche climbing from zero to 60, big changes for the better started happening, one right after the other:

Back-to-back appearances on the Dean’s List at the University of Texas at Tyler…a handsome result on the GRE test…new graduate school suitors almost every week for the next four months…my first foray into filmmaking and a research project in media studies that was unlike anything the university’s Institutional Research Board had ever seen…an unexpected opportunity to function as a teaching assistant in British Literature…membership in a third national academic honor society…a conference trip to Nashville for my first research presentation.

And this all came about while I was still being the dependable, if unheralded, newspaper reporter many people had come to know.

When graduation night finally arrived, that walk across the stage at the Cowan Center at UT Tyler literally felt like a transformational process taking place.  There was a different Terry Britt descending the steps at the opposite end, one who no longer had to feel inadequate or embarrassed about the fact that he didn’t have a college degree.

I had even more than that.  I also had a renewed confidence, a renewed drive to reach further in life, and, finally, a sense of direction and purpose.  An even greater bonus was all of the new friends I had made on campus, especially my colleagues at the Patriot Talon after making the decision the previous summer to join the editorial staff.

In most cases, these were people who were literally half my age or younger.  In no case did any of them make a big deal about that, and I now consider them my friends for life.

Age 47 will always stand out in my mind for another, probably more important, reason: The fact that no one who knew me will ever be able to see me the same way again.

Not after what I published on this blog on July 2, 2012.

One of the peculiar things about confidence is it has a way of spreading throughout your whole being – physical, mental, emotional, psychological – and allows you to tear down walls that may have been constructed many years, sometimes decades, ago.

Having ascended a mountaintop I once thought well beyond my ability to reach, I found it a lot easier to open up publicly about the monstrous experiences I endured on the journey.  Being a childhood sexual assault victim, battling depression, dealing with suicidal family members, nearly falling into a drinking problem, and other dark days have suddenly and irreversibly changed from prison bars to the platform of an inspirational story.

Perhaps it is poignant that two of the final weeks of this year of my life were spent volunteering in a program I once thought I would never find, Suicide Prevention Week, at a place I once thought I would never be, the University of Texas at Austin.

But certain years of your life are like that: They change you, your surroundings, your situation, your future, in ways that are difficult to measure on any scale.

It is my final evening of age 47 and I felt it was only proper to send it off with something appropriately unique and magnificent – a glass of Breckenridge Brewery’s Vanilla Porter, a recent discovery that has quickly joined (512) Brewing Company’s Pecan Porter as my absolute favorite porter beers.

Tomorrow marks the start of another year of my life, but I’ve got news for age 48 and the rest to come:

You’ve all got one hell of an act to follow.

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