Sunday, May 15, 2011
One Week Before the Beginning
Today is a writing day.
Sometimes I can hardly sleep for the words push and play and demand my expression. Today is one of those days.
I’m going to graduate from college next week. I really am. I have the gown, the tassel , the yellow chord, the guest tickets. It’s real.
I remember clearly two events leading to this day.
First, my daughter-in-law’s voice saying, “John says it’s his fault that you didn’t go to college.” Fault? Interesting choice of words.
It’s true I didn’t go at 18 because I had to take care of us. In those days, when you aged out of foster care you simply aged out. It was up to your parents or foster parents to send you to college and mine couldn’t. The concept of After Care for foster kids was many years away when I turned 18.
Besides, I was pregnant. I had made my life choices and I chose to give life. I never, ever regretted that decision. But it complicated things for me. Rent and food and childcare stood between me and course catalogs.
College for me was an impractical dream lived by other people.
Time and life flew by. We made do and God provided in amazing ways.
Then came the day I sat in my son’s kitchen and listened to his wife tell me how responsible he felt that I hadn’t done what I always wanted to do.
“I’m not dead yet.” Was my answer and the gauntlet was thrown.
I was 39 years old. I was a legal secretary and worked part-time at Milwaukee Area Technical College. I knew adults went back to school all the time. I could easily join their ranks. Like my father before me, I looked at the peers which might be mine and I feared failing before them.
Kind people told me I was capable, but what if I wasn’t? What if I failed? What if I embarrassed my Grandma’s memory by finishing short?
Fear of failure was the hardest obstacle.
I had certain, particular friends at that time who unknowingly encouraged me.
A simple phrase spoken by someone whose opinion I held highly, “I keep forgetting you don’t have a degree already. You know so much about literature.”
And another, “You should work on getting published. You’re good enough.”
“You would blow them out of the water!”
Block by block, word by word, their words built me up until I could see over the fear and I started cautiously down the road.
The second memory, the one which pushed me above the fear, makes me smile to this day. I was having lunch with my boss on a beautiful fall day. I told him I was going to start taking classes. I needed him to know I didn’t plan to stay where I was, I wanted to be more than a secretary at some point in my life.
He looked farther beyond than I was dreaming. “Well, I know a lot of people who went to law school after having a full career somewhere else. You would make a great lawyer. I think you can do this.”
“One level at a time,” I laughed, “I don’t want to be a lawyer anyway. “ But his confidence in my ability so far beyond my dream pushed me over the fear of failure. If he thought I could finish grad school, then surely I could graduate from undergrad!
So many seasons have come and gone in the last six years.
Mavrik was only a few months old when I started this journey, and now he is graduating from kindergarten – a boy who can read and run and loves the world unabashedly. Anna, Arthur and Eli have been added to our clan - tangible reminders of God’s plans larger than our own.
Johnathon, my first son, and his wife have matured into leaders and parents who give more than they take from the world around them.
Thi, the younger, graduated from high school, expanded music and ministry learning with his college, and is now a youth pastor sharing grace with those set in his path.
I have moved from city to small town traveling between married and divorced, legal assistant to educator and back again, skirting the line of plenty and poverty. Names have been added and deleted from the list of those called “family” through birth and death and weaving of life’s story.
The blog, the book, the acceptance of my words and voice have given me a new identity.
I am not the same woman who sat in my son’s kitchen tantalized by the unlived dream. I am a writer. My expansive life experiences have given me something to share with those who come behind me. I am a stronger, more compassionate, quieter version of the woman who started this journey.