Credo by Lawson Reed Wulsin           

Spring 2008

For the most part, my parents ran a pretty loose house.  I am the second of four boys and we had a tendency to push the envelope a bit.  Though each of us had our misadventures, Stu, the third child, and I demanded most of my parents’ attention.  Between third and seventh grade, Stu and I fought almost every day; violent, emotionally charged, physical fights that left Stu in tears and me alone.  We played with fire, built forts in the woods, and wore muddy shoes through the house.

A friend of our parents came over once in his fancy new convertible and while he was inside talking to Mom and Dad, Stu and I concocted a brilliant idea.  We placed two bricks squarely on the trunk of the convertible.  Then rested a twenty-foot 2x12 on the bricks and grabbed our bikes.  Though he remembers it differently, I swear Stu went first.  The brilliant idea was to pick up as much speed as possible, ride up the plank and launch either over the car, or even better – land in the driver’s seat.  However, as soon as Stu hit the plank, it shifted the bricks a few inches and he wiped out.  The shifted bricks left a series of parallel lines scratched into the trunk of this shiny convertible and my parents were left footing the bill for a new paint job.

For the most part, my parents ran a pretty loose house.  At some point, however, they decided to try and establish a set of rules that would govern our family.

My undergraduate thesis project was a thirty-minute piece of movement theatre.  I worked closely with a cast of four, a lighting designer and a stage manager to expand a short script into a fully explored narrative.  The six of us worked long hours for five weeks and became very close.  Opening night would have been four years ago this past Friday, but on the Wednesday before, I was in the basement scene shop designing a guitar hook when I heard what sounded like a hundred china plates shattering on the brick patio outside.

In the Southwest of the Green Mountains, a short hike leads to an extraordinary view.  I’ve hiked to the top of Bald Mountain a half dozen times.  Usually I get lost and don’t actually make it to the viewpoint, but once, on a beautiful autumn day, I left work and hit the trail quickly.  My goal was to race to the top before the sun set.  In the woods on the way up I couldn’t tell how much longer I had before sunset, nor was I aware how clear the air was.  I made it to the viewpoint where a landslide had left car-sized rocks exposed to the western sky.  I could see clearly the Adirondacks in the West and to the South I could just make out the Catskills.  But most remarkable of all was the giant blue dome over head and the radiant sun right in front of me.  It felt as if the Sun were shining directly on me.

The rules our parents established weren’t a long list of things we weren’t aloud to do.  Instead, my father – in his wisdom – suggested we decide on a small group of common expectations. Though I know we settled on four, I can only remember the first two: “Everybody helps,” and “Clean-up after yourself.”  He wrote them on a sheet of pastel pink legal-sized paper in blue ink and taped it to the refrigerator, where it stayed for enough years to have engrained in my mind.

Outside the scene shop, the brick patio sparkled.  It was one of those sunny New England days in March when it feels like June.  The brick patio sparkled with shattered glass, but I remember the sounds more vividly than the images.  Susan, my dance teacher, screaming, “Call 9-1-1.”  Jean repeating softly, “We love you, we love you, we love you.”  Another china plate shattering; though I now knew it was glass from the window twenty feet above.  Rich, the security guard, shouting orders to the gathering crowd, “Stand back. Who saw something?” and radioing for two ambulances.  Then, “Somebody… Lawson, go show the medics where we are.”

I ran around the building to the front driveway and paced for what seemed like too long.  Then, in the distance, I heard the sirens and finally the flashing lights racing towards me.  I pointed them in the direction of the brick patio and ran across the field to meet them there.  As I came around the corner, Rich was calling to anyone who could hear, “Suction!  We need suction.”

Kelly and Laura were taken to the local hospital where they were then transported by helicopter to two different major medical centers.  They had fallen through a floor-to-ceiling second floor window.  Laura has had a miraculously complete recovery.  Kelly never regained consciousness and died the next evening.

Tragedy hit my small college and nobody had any answers.  So we gathered in Commons and pushed all the furniture to the edge of the room.  No less than three hundred students, faculty, and staff sat on the floor, leaned against the walls, and held each other.  One by one, voices rose from the sea of bodies to share memories and prayers.

My cast and I decided to postpone opening night for eight weeks.  We cried together and held each other.  We cried together and held each other.

From the top of Bald Mountain, I felt as if I could reach out and embrace the Sun.  I was alone on the top of a landslide gazing across an incomprehensibly vast landscape and the sun shone directly on me.  I sat down on a granite ledge and breathed deeply the crisp Vermont air.  I sighed and felt the coolness of the stone and the warmth of the sun.  With every breath I cleared my mind of chatter and came a little bit closer to embodying the peace, certainty, and beauty that surrounded me.

Bald Mountain, Vermont.  Bald Island, Maine.  Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod.  Loita Hills, Kenya.  Point Lenana, Mt. Kenya.  The Eiger, Switzerland.  Serpent Island, Ontario.  The Creek at the bottom of the hill below my childhood home.  The view East from the top of the hill outside that home.  The Mineral Hills Conservation Area, Northampton.  Mt. Pollux, South Amherst.  These are my sacred spaces.

Throughout my life, my cathedral has been the out of doors.  I worship the rising sun and pray to the passing clouds.  Being alone in the woods humbles my spirit and reminds me of the awesome and complex world that surrounds me.  This complexity is far beyond my understanding.  Breathing in crisp air, salt spray, or pine sap and squinting against a setting sun, mad whirl of fog, or incessant rain cleanses my mind, clarifies my passions, and focuses my energy.

“Everybody helps,” and “Clean up after yourself.”  This is my credo.  I believe that I need community support to persist in the face of tragedy and to thrive when life’s blessings overwhelm.  I believe that being alone in nature has the power to clean my mind and purify my soul. The wisdom of my father was in this paradox that I’ve only begun appreciating recently: that I need everybody’s help in order to clean up after myself; and the best way for me to help everybody is to spend some time cleaning up after myself.  The out-of-doors is my soul-cleanser and this Society is my Everybody.