Blank Screen Blues

Jim Amidon — I sat down last Friday to write this blog and got a serious case of “blank screen blues.”
 
What I mean is that when I sat down, I didn’t have a topic in mind about which to write. I know this affliction snares a lot of regular newspaper columnists and bloggers, but in my job at Wabash College, I’m usually not short of material or ideas.
 
At first, I blamed it on the holidays. A quick back-and-forth trip to the northern Florida gulf coast to spend time with my parents and my brother’s family was nice, but it wasn’t restful. And after driving all the way back to Crawfordsville on New Year’s Day, well, I felt like I needed another vacation!
 
Then there was the email and voice mail mess. How can more than 400 email messages pile up in less than a week? Did 19 people really phone me between Christmas and New Year’s Day? As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!”
 
Maybe the blank screen at which I stared was the result of snow blindness. After all, I have two very large windows on either side of the desk in my office, and the light reflecting from the snow was blinding — even as I sat in near-complete darkness in front of the glowing monitor.
 
Maybe my stiff fingers triggered some synaptic thing that caused my brain to go blank last week. Taking advantage of the gorgeous snowfall and suddenly bright skies last Thursday afternoon, I decided to venture out across campus to take a couple hundred photographs of the College under its fluffy white blanket.
 
It was right after lunch and the sun was trying (in vain) to peer through the heavy clouds, so the light was nearly perfect. But that’s also when the wind picked up and the temperature dropped by a few degrees.
 
By the time I realized how cold I had gotten, I was at the far south end of campus. The tips of my ears were stinging, burning from the cold wind. The fingers on my exposed right hand (the better to click the camera shutter) felt like icicles. I hurriedly mushed through the arboretum and back to my office, but by then the tips of my fingers were white, which I gather is indication of frostbite.
 
So maybe I ought to blame my blank screen blues on the cold, winter weather.
 
But if I’m being honest, my mental screen went blank a week ago this morning when — in the midst of those 400 emails — my friend Steve Klein called to tell me the tragic news that Wabash sophomore Josh Linthicum had died during fairly routine surgery.
 
In that instant, that 30-second phone call, my mind’s hard drive was erased. I felt as though I had been sucker-punched in the gut and I literally struggled to take a calming breath. The word “shock” doesn’t come close. In fact, I don’t have words to describe last Monday and the days since — other than “blank screen” or “fried hard drive.”
 
What must Josh’s parents have thought when the surgeon emerged in the waiting room with news of such horror, such tragedy? I simply can’t imagine. And I pray for them.
 
I’ve tried going to my “back up drive” to restore my thoughts — you know, memories. The truth is that I have only a few memories of Josh. I fondly recall meeting him in the lobby of the Allen Center on his first campus visit as a high school senior football player. I remember thinking, “What a mountain of a man. We’ll need a bigger jersey for him!”
 
Josh was big, even by offensive lineman standards. We listed him at 6-3 and 315, but he was probably closer to 6-5 and 350 pounds. And yet he was not at all intimidating. He smiled a lot. I noticed how other students enjoyed being around him.
 
After victories at Little Giant Stadium when the team gathered to sing “Old Wabash” with fans, Josh was easy to pick out; he literally stood head and shoulders above most every other player. And he was always smiling.
 
Wabash has suffered its share of tragedies in recent years, but losing Josh Linthicum just doesn’t make any sense. He was a big, strong, and powerful young man, but kind and funny, too; a big teddy bear of a kid.
 
In the week that has passed since Josh died, I have continued to suffer from some odd sort of brain freeze or snow blindness. I am not alone, either. I’ve encountered a lot of Wabash people with similar blank looks, staring off at the snow-covered landscape.
 
So forgive all of us at Wabash if we seem to be walking around a little snow blind, pecking away on our keyboards, staring at blank screens and asking questions knowing the answers will never come.
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One Response to Blank Screen Blues

  1. Roberto Giannini says:

    Jim:
    Amongst the seemingly too many deaths we have experienced in the last few years – Mike Bachner, Rod Helderman, Bill Placher, Chet Starnes, Gary Livengood, Patrick Woehnker, and Johnny Smith, Josh’s was the one who took our breath away. Still grasping for air in the ever-present, after-holiday blues that seems grayer and emptier than usual.
    The Security Desk at the Allen Center will look less secure and joyful now that Josh won’t be seated behind it anymore.
    Roberto