08 October 2013

I Remember

Sometimes I have one of those days, when my head hurts, when it seems all I'm breathing is information and my body can't convert it into the oxygen my brain needs. When I can't remember the reason I even came to grad school. Sometimes those days come right on top of each other, exacerbated by sleep deprivation and hours of screen gazing and research.

When I have one of those days, inevitably I remember three things:

1) A young Brazilian mother trying to entertain a tired, curly-headed toddler as the speaker at the 2012 graduate school introduction night addressed us. I had three days of grad school under my belt at that time and was fighting the trembling in my chin and the tears in my eyes. She had just moved from Brazil with her husband and two children. He was a brand-new MBA student. They'd left a nice apartment and a great job and would have to return and start over once he finished the program—with whatever money they had left. He was grateful to be at this particular university, anticipated the larger opportunities a business degree would give him in Brazil. English was their second language; she spoke only brokenly, I learned as I tried to ask her about herself. He was all smiles, though somewhat tight; but in her I recognized the same wide eyes and slack-jawed disorientation I felt in myself. And on top of that, for her, the strain of being alone with two little boys in a strange apartment, in an alien town, in a foreign country, all and every day. Of having to find grocery stores and learn to convert money and live like we Americans do. Without friends or family to support her. Her situation made me square my shoulders a little more. Because I realized how much braver she would have to be than I.

2) The elderly female professor sitting right next to me that night, friendly and motherly. Exactly what I needed. She had earned both her master's and doctorate degrees while being a full-time mother. It had taken longer, but she said, "We just decided we would all do homework together at night. The tv was never on at our house during the weekdays." She'd researched for her dissertation while waiting for kids at soccer practice. For a timid grad student who was staggering through the first week of school, I couldn't imagine surviving to the doctorate level while single, much less with a family to take care of. And yet here she sat beside me, all smiles and confidence and contentment. And I realized again how easy I had it.

3) The sweet, petite new mother in my own graduate classes who bounces her darling baby boy during class and fits her homework into those short hours when he naps. While I can't wait to be a mother, I'm so glad I don't have the responsibility she does. I don't know how she does it; and still smiles.

These are my heroes now. The cloud-champions of younger, inexperienced years have dissipated in the gravelly grind that is graduate school. I don't look up to pop stars and film characters and story heroes; I look up to these people I brush shoulders with who have been on the path before me and have successfully navigated it. Have survived it. Have transcended it. And all with burdens much heavier than mine. I remember them; and admiration rouses me from self pity. I count my blessings and get back to work.

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