Caleb Woods, a military veteran and freshman international rescue and relief major, tells about his first day at Union College.
People always ask me what makes me most nervous about starting college. I usually say moving to a new place by myself.
In reality, being in school and sitting in a classroom more than 10 years after high school terrifies me. As a 30-year-old and a combat veteran, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more out of place than sitting behind these multicolored (and undersized) desks here at Union.
I’ve been to war several times. During the years I was deployed, it felt like I got to know Afghanistan better than I know my hometown of Chicago. It’s hard to explain, and it doesn’t make sense to most people, but I feel more comfortable under enemy fire than in the relative safety of a college campus.
During freshman orientation, the speakers talked about finding our path and discovering our purpose. It was a strange sensation to sit among 18- and 19-year-old students while many declared that this was their first time away from home. There was so much innocence and hope, but I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve already lived out my purpose.
Something Rich Carlson wrote in his first “Good Morning Union” message stuck with me, though, and I can’t shake it despite my ongoing resistance to everything religious. He wrote:
I pray that you will take this first day experience and use it as an opportunity to, in a way, start over; start again; stop fretting over the past and look forward to an amazing future.
These are simple words, but they impacted me more than I expected. I’ve been living in the past, dwelling on what I used to be instead of what is in front of me. My thoughts have been consumed with the military every waking moment of every day since I enlisted.
I will never forget what I learned in the army, and I’ll never forget my experiences in Afghanistan—both good and bad. I’m doing my best to move forward, though, and begin “cultivating a life of the soul,” as my dad says it.
My palms are a little sweaty, and my hands are shaking because I’m not usually one to tell how I feel. But I’m doing my best to follow Pastor Rich’s advice, and I’m doing my best to let go of the past and look forward to an amazing future.