Today I had a startling revelation. A sit-myself-down-and-rethink-my-life kind of revelation. The kind of awakening that really can cause a major shift in how I think about my life and move in my world.
When I was a kid, my dad made it clear that the most important thing in the world was a college education. I would be the first person in his line to get a degree from a four-year college. He said that no matter how expensive it was, and no matter what he had to do to make it happen, I would go to the best school I could get into. Period. End of discussion. My job was to get good grades so I could get into the best college possible.
I chose Brandeis University. Brandeis was very expensive, but I had an excellent high school record and my folks didn’t have a lot of money, so I got a generous financial aid package.
A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving of my sophomore year, my father got angry at me. Really, really angry. He started sending me vicious letters telling me how spoiled and ungrateful I was; that I didn’t deserve to be at Brandeis; that I should just pack my bags and go to the cheapest state school I could find. He would no longer pay for me to go to college.
Fast forward to this afternoon. For more than 15 years, I’ve held a huge amount of anger at him about what happened.
Today (thanks to the amazing Ken Kizer) for the first time I realized that I survived. I was resourceful and strong enough to survive.
How did I do that? Well, my very first day on campus at Brandeis, I made one of the smartest decisions ever. I needed a work-study job, so I went to the Financial Aid Office and applied for a job there. Over the next few months, I became friends with my financial aid counselor, Andrea.
When my father started sending all those awful letters, he sent one to her as well. Andrea brought me into her office and told me – as I sobbed hysterically and she looked on sympathetically – that we would work it out. No matter what, she would help me find a way to stay in school. She asked me if I wanted to get back in touch with him; when I said no, she said, “Then I won’t make you.” I don’t know how she worked it, but she made it so I could stay in school for the next two and a half years.
I did several work-study jobs and got professional experience that was extremely helpful after I graduated. As an undergraduate, I trained at a mostly graduate level in a highly respected program. I began to cultivate an actual social life (rather than tagging along with others and participating in their social lives, as I had when I first got to school.) I created close relationships with professors who were very supportive. I kept my grades high and graduated Summa Cum Laude.
So here is the revelation – I’ve focused on being mad about the stuff that was sucky. I resented the fact that I had to lean on the kindness of others in order to get through school. But what about this rethinking: I survived. I made a life for myself. Through my own resourcefulness and ability to create relationships, I was able to stay in school. I proved that I could take care of myself, even in unpleasant circumstances.
What if the universe was giving me an opportunity to realize that I was capable of standing on my own two feet and surviving?
I hope that somewhere in heaven my Dad is smiling at me now, happy that I got it.
Thank you Andrea for taking care of a girl who didn’t know where else to turn. “Grateful” doesn’t even begin to cover it. You are a miracle.
And thanks to Ken for helping me to get my head straight. “Grateful” doesn’t cover it with you either. What a miracle.