A simple decision

Published 1:52 pm Friday, June 3, 2016

A few years out of high school, working the same job as I had as a teenager and with friends moved on to distant locations and new adventures, I found myself with extra time and little direction.

It was without much thought that I picked up a catalog for Southwestern Michigan College, seeking out a class that would fill some leisure time and, perhaps, connect me with new faces. I had surely intended to find a course in cinema history or film appreciation, as movies had long been my main interest. Surprisingly, it was a physical education class that took my attention.

The class description promised an experience in rock climbing and I was suddenly reminded of a childhood field trip.

The middle school adventure was intended, I believe, as a confidence booster and a team building exercise. We spent the day at Five Pines in Berrien Center and, though I am sure I enjoyed many of the outdoor activities, it was the rock climbing wall I remember.

I climbed each wall and tested every angle. Once free from the required circuit all of the outdoor center offered, I returned to the tower intending to conquer every challenge.

I had not gone climbing since that day in my youth, but I realized as I read the SMC catalog that I had been thinking continuously about it in the many years since. Forgetting classes on movies, I signed up, figuring I would try a film course the following semester. At that moment, I had no understanding that the class would be the beginning of the direction of my life, holding impact even to this day, more than a decade later.

These memories moved to the front of my mind in recent weeks, while attending the various events leading up to and including the wedding of two friends. At the bachelor party, the activities stretched from late evening into early morning, with unruly laughter and stories worth telling, but perhaps best left to the memory of those in attendance.

The wedding reception held a familial bonding and such an amount of dancing that I still felt sore a few days later. All of these activities and relationships and much of those that have occupied me over the past decade can be traced back to that moment, the decision to take that rock climbing class.

The teacher of that class has become a man I call a friend and, though I play no particular sport for him, a person I refer to as my coach.

He often tells the story behind the term, indicating the history of a “coach” taking people from one place to another. I have spent more than 10 years traveling to lands distant and near, pursuing outdoor adventures, and pushing myself both physically and mentally. Taking that class and meeting my coach is responsible for aspects of my life both distinct and philosophical.

As a long-time movie lover who dreamed of making his own, it was inspiration from one of those extreme adventures that pushed me to purchase my first camera and attempt to make a movie.

Once intimate with the idea that I could make my own creations, instead of only enjoying those made by others, I pushed further into the things I loved. I have made audio shows, interviewed rock stars and written pieces for other people to read.

I have made friends that are my strongest to this day and through them made other friends. These relationships have led to employment and entertainment, more travels and adventures. Follow that string long enough and it leads directly to my fiance, Kristin, our crew of animals, and the home and life built here in Niles.

On a grander scale, I now realize that life is a beautiful and brief journey, one in which I can and should pursue all that draws me as long as I am able. I have learned that life can surprise you at any moment, turning the direction of your journey with a choice as simple as a community college class. I hope to share with others the knowledge that in those inevitable moments when we lose our way, an unexpected answer is likely hiding nearby.


Justin Flagel is the founder of the web magazine and podcast Anywhere the Needle Drops, where he and others showcase their interest in music, pop culture, creativity and life. Follow their work at anywheretheneedledrops.com. Feedback can be directed to contact@anywheretheneedledrops.com.