If you’re reading this, know that the lowest points in life often end up being the most influential.
During the spring semester of my first year, I almost lost my dad in an attempted robbery which ended with him being shot four times. One through his cheek. One in his left leg. One in his right leg. One in his right hip.
Thankfully, my father’s only major injury was a shattered hip, but the thought that I could have so easily lost him really shook me. Prior to this event, the worst thing that had happened to me was failing my learner’s permit test the first time and everyone at my school finding out, so I certainly wasn’t mentally prepared for this. Throughout my childhood, I had basically lived in a bubble. I never had to worry financially. There were no major deaths in the family. I had little struggle when it came to school or making friends. This event, however, changed that.
Shortly after the incident, I started going home every weekend. During the weekdays while at UVA, I spent all my time studying in order to focus my full attention on my family when I got home. I would cry a lot during the days and had a short temper towards my friends. My roommate, concerned for my well being, once asked how I was doing, to which I snapped back “How could I be okay when all I can think about is my dad being shot?” All she was trying to do was make sure I was alright, but I just pushed her away. Mentally, I withdrew from UVA and the Charlottesville community as a whole. I wasn’t the bubbly and outgoing person that I normally strive to be.
Fast forward to the present and I am now able to admit the extent to which this event positively influenced who I am today. I would not say I am thankful for my father being shot, but I am thankful for the realizations and understandings that unfolded from this traumatic experience. I now recognize that ‘tomorrow’ is never guaranteed. I stop putting things off for the future and instead try to live in the moment. I realized that I want to work with those less fortunate, specifically children with disabilities, when I graduate UVA. This was a complete career change for me. Prior to my family’s trauma, I was dead set on studying environmental science. Over time I realized not to sweat the small stuff because in the grand scheme of things, it simply does not make a significant difference. Was it worth feeling overwhelmingly stressed for an entire week all because of one test? What I went through my first year at UVA helped shape me into the person I am today, and for that I am truly grateful.
If you’re reading this, be hopeful. What may seem like your worst nightmare right now may open the door to realizations which impact your life for the better.
Lillie Neal, University of Virginia