It was the first week of September, and I remember getting off of the bus and walking down Portage Avenue. I was early. I needed to leave time to find my class - I couldn't be late on the first day. As I stood at the lights to cross Portage and saw the brick and stone of U of W in front of me I wondered what it would be like.
I was about to start my Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. It was a long time coming. A move across the country and two years had delayed my start, but now my time had come. I was full of nervous energy. I remember looking around at the students milling about the campus. They all looked so young. I couldn't have looked that young when I did my undergrad, I thought. Everyone seemed to know where they were going. They were walking with friends or classmates and were laughing and smiling while they chatted with each other.
I was alone.
I was OK with being alone. I had a lot to think about. I had a lot invested. Money, time, dreams, hopes, my family.... I didn't take any of that lightly. I felt like Mike and our girls were going across Portage Avenue with me. Mike, because he was making it possible for me to pursue a dream. Our girls, because they were about to begin to make sacrifices too. I knew a bit of the cost ahead.
I took a deep breath and pulled open the big wooden doors of Bryce Hall. It was quiet and empty in the entrance to the building. It had the old familiar smell of the hallowed halls of academia and age. I've always loved that smell. I wanted to look assured, confident, aware, and most importantly - like I belonged. I couldn't let my nervous energy give me away.
As I rounded the corner to head up the stairs I was confronted with unexpected beauty that brought me peace.
I kept walking up the stairwell heading to my classroom on the second floor. I turned at the top and met a hallway of doors of old wood and a polished floor. Posters and notices for academic events and lectures met me on the bulletin boards. They were talking to me. They were for me and not someone else. I was a student now. I was terrified as I walked the steps down the hallway, following the voices to the door on the left.
There it was. 213 Bryce Hall. Survey of Family Therapy Theories. I had found my place.
I found a spot towards the center of the "U" shaped configuration of tables. I recognized a woman from the Graduate Studies Orientation the day before. There were women taking up the spaces around the room with a lone male. There were women older than me and some younger. There was grey hair and rich chocolate brown skin. Eyes that looked down and those that darted nervously from person to person hoping to make a connection. I just wanted class to start so that I could say that I had begun.
Last week I took that same walk, only it was my last class of the year and of my degree instead of my first. The people that sat around me weren't just strangers sharing my space, but were now my friends. I knew more about most of them than many of my friends know about me. This program is interesting. There is no time or space for pretense. Authenticity is expected. Vulnerability a requirement. Disclosure an assumption. You have to give. But you also have to receive the fragile and honest offerings that your classmates generously and tentatively hold out to you.
As I walked up those steps last week, I wasn't nervous. I was grateful. Grateful for a husband who not once, ever said, "you wanted this", or "I wish this program wasn't messing things up" as we spent yet another conversation figuring out how we'd get a kid from point A to point B because I had class and wouldn't be available. Grateful for three girls who made concessions and sacrifices without complaining while learning to be on their own a lot more while I was at class, working on a paper, or trudging through research journals looking for the perfect fit for the assignment I was preparing for.
There was chatter in that room last week. Some of it was mine. I was surrounded by faces I knew. I was throwing around terms and words that were foreign to me 10 months earlier. I knew things I didn't used to know. I knew faces and voices I didn't used to recognize. There was history and laughter and shared experience around that circle as we finished up our course work and looked to the way ahead.
I'm not new anymore. I am part of. I'm still scared. I'm often tired. There's been pressure. I've stared at this laptop screen feeling unsure of where to go and what to say as I've written papers and assignments, sometimes asking if it's worth it. But I know things I didn't used to, and I know myself in ways I could have never recognized. There are layers to me that you can't take away. There are friends in my corner who weren't there before. Fringe benefits to a graduate degree. Unexpected richness received in room 213.