My eleventh grade English teacher interrupted class one day with that booming question. Until then we’d been having staple fights, passing notes, and half-assedly working on book reports about Brave New World.
“How often do you actually sit back and think?,” he prodded. “The reason I ask is because you’re lucky you have time to think and it’s really important.”
He paused for a minute and looked at us and we paused for a minute and looked back. It was clear he was done so we shrugged at each other and began chatting again. People leaned back on their chairs, some blew bubbles and shot air free-throws, and a couple kids in the corner rubbed glue sticks on each other’s sweatshirts.
It was a long time ago and I didn’t look back on it until last week.
I was just finishing up a speech about the 3 A’s of Awesome at a business conference and was gathering my things and stepping off the stage when a man rushed up to me.
“Hey, I’ve got an awesome for you,” he started urgently, and I looked up to see wild eyes darting through thick glasses, a weathered face with lots of wrinkles, and long shaggy hair rolling down his back.
He stared hard at me for a reaction and I paused for a second, not knowing what to say.
“Thinking,” he said again.
“Yeah, that’s true,” I slowly ventured. “Thinking is … pretty important.”
“No, I don’t think you understand,” he said sharply, slightly spitting, with his hands shaking urgency. “I mean the ability to think. See, I was in a big car accident last year and my head got hit pretty bad. I spent an entire year in a coma in the hospital … and I couldn’t think. I couldn’t process thoughts. I knew I was alive but I wasn’t able to have thoughts connect in my brain.”
“I just got out of it last week and now I’m doing great. I can think again and it’s a gift. We aren’t always able to think… but if you can, if you can put things together, if you can figure things out, then you’re lucky. I missed an entire year of my life because I couldn’t think. Now I’ll never take it for granted again.”
My mind flashed back to my eleventh grade classroom and my teacher sadly trying to get our attention. I don’t think we understood it then, because how could we? When you’ve always thought, when you can always think, it’s hard picturing thinking about not thinking.
But thinking is what gives us movies, magic, and songs. It’s what gives us paintings, blogs, and books. Thinking results in businesses, theories, and games. It gives us inventions, conversations, and names. At the end of the day, thinking is what helped us rise, it’s what moves us forward, and what shapes our lives.