I like to think I'm an achiever. I don't think it's one of my top five strengths as determined by the Gallup Organization (See: Strengthsfinder), but I'd bet it's in my top ten. I love the feeling of accomplishment. I love that moment when all the work that's been put into something pays off. I could say that my proudest moment was graduating from high school on my birthday. Or, I could choose my undergrad college graduation - I was the first in my family to continue my education straight out of high school and complete college chronologically. Or, I could say it's the day I got my fancy sleeves and velvety hood along with my giant Masters Degree. I could, in hopeful foreshadowing, say that it will likely be when my son or daughter graduates high school, college, completes his/her doctorate, becomes President...[insert accomplishment here].
It's none of the above.
My proudest moment was the night I changed the upper radiator hose in my best friend's car.
Picture it: Cleveland, Tennessee, March-ish 1999. I am a freshman in college. Each Spring, Lee (that's my university) does this thing called Lee Day. It's basically a recruitment weekend in which a million different things happen all over the campus (like it has ADHD or something) and students who are thinking about attending come and discover the campus in real and personal ways. Enter my best friend, Sheron (heretofore known as "Sherry"). Sherry and I had been at one of the outrageous Lee Day parties and decided that we needed McDonald's. Sherry had a car, I did not.
Earlier that day, Sherry loaned her car to our friend, Missi, who drove it to Chattanooga for some reason I can't remember. Unbeknown to any of us, at some point on the 15-mile, all freeway drive, the upper radiator hose pretty much blew completely open. From what we could tell, Missi had been driving the car for at least 30 minutes HOT. Looking back, it was nothing short of a miracle that a radiator hose was all we needed. I digress.
Sherry and I get in her returned car and a very distinct smell comes wafting through the vents and I know immediately what it is (thank God for a mechanic father and an old, 1989 Cavalier for my first car!). I tell Sherry it has to be something with the radiator or antifreeze or something. We call my dad and he says to go out and lift the hood (hey, I was an 18 year old GIRL- I needed direction, okay?), upon which I see a gash about eight inches long staring me in the face with a terrible, flourescent green liquid oozing out of it. Yep, radiator-something and antifreeze.
So, dad says because it's the hose at the top, it's the upper radiator hose. (Rocket science!) He says they cost about five bucks, and take no more than 15 minutes to repair. Easy enough except Sherry's car is the only one we had. In true college dorm-life fashion, we went knocking on doors. Most resident students leave campus as much as possible during Lee Day Weekend. Prospective students are our tourists - we aren't that interested in being around them the entire time they're there. Anyway, we finally find a girl who offers to drive us to AutoZone and I pick up a radiator hose. All that's left is to unclamp the broken one, put the clamps on the new one, squeeze her on there and screw the clamps tight.
One problem. The clamps don't screw together; they're what are called V clamps. V clamps look like this: take your left hand and make a V with your index and middle fingers. Take your index finger of the right hand and slide it between your left-hand V, this should make another V. Those are V-clamps: they can't be opened with a screwdriver. Pliers are the only option.
So, we went knocking...again.
Our RD had a set of needle-nose pliers that she loaned to us. March in Tennessee equals early sundown, so now, we had to move Sherry's car under a parking lot light. Two 18-year old girls pushing a car across a parking lot is definitely entertaining. Especially when such action came about as a result of a conversation somewhat like this:
"You really think we can push this car all the way across the lot?"
"I don't see why not - we found the problem, we found a ride to get the hose to fix the problem, we found the pliers to apply the hose to the problem. How hard can it be to push a car?"
"Okay, let's do it."
So, we push the car. We open the hood, and I set to work on the clamps. I tell Sherry, "Y'know, all this time, I was hoping and wishing for a guy to see us and offer to help, and none have. I don't care if God's Gift to Mechanics walks up at this point. If he's a man, I'm tellin' him 'no, thank you.'"
Twenty minutes, lots of sweat, one gash in the hand to match the broken hose and two very frustrated girls later, we almost had the new hose on. My hands were just too small and too tired to maneuver the pliers on the clamps and squeeze anymore. Enter a very cute guy: "Y'all need some help?" Sherry looks at me- "YES!" I reply. He comes over, and within a minute and a half, has the hose fully set on the radiator. And with that, he nods at us and walks off. I turn to Sherry and whisper, "that doesn't count - I'm injured."
We filled the radiator with water and decided, in light of our accomplishment, to celebrate at Applebee's instead of McDonald's. It was about 9:30 at this point; we started around 4:00.
On the surface, there's nothing spectacular about this story. It's all true and I have the memories and the laughter to prove it. What made this night my greatest accomplishment was not what happened with the car, but my life before and after this moment. I entered Lee in the fall of that year as a very homesick freshman. I spent all my weekends locked in my dorm room and was quite anxious and upset most of the time. Less than a month in, I called my parents and said, "You have a 10-hour drive ahead of you. I'll be packed when you get here." Somehow, in the course of a few months, I'd gone from this frightful, fearful, apprehensive girl to a take-no-guff, laugh it off, try-try-again She-Woman.
I learned that night that the greatest accomplishments are not without hard, tedious, seemingly neverending work. But they are also not without some of the most memorable, happy and profound moments that can be found in life. That moment carried with me for my entire undergraduate and graduate careers and it was the spirit of that girl that said, "YES!" when a big, big God set California in front of me. And the conversation went something like this:
"You really think I can move all the way across the country?"
"I don't see why not- I've set the road before you. I have a plan for you. I've never taken you anywhere you couldn't handle before. How hard do you think I would make this for you?"
"Okay, let's do it."
And I couldn't possibly be more proud.