A few years ago I decided to take the plunge. I applied for graduate school and, shockingly, I was accepted.
On the night of my first class, I met this woman. She was in her early 40s. She sat near the back of the class, avoiding eye contact and pretending to leaf through her textbook while listening to the other students chat. She had this deer-in-the-headlights expression of one who wasn't sure of what she had gotten herself into.
The professor asked everyone to introduce themselves and tell a little about what had brought them there. This new woman said that she was married, had a couple of young children, and had graduated with her bachelors degree 20 years prior. She wasn't the oldest in the class, but she had been out of school the longest. It was no wonder she was nervous.
I got to know this woman as we tackled class after class together. The field of psychology had changed quite a bit since she had last graduated, and the technology we were using didn't even exist when she was an undergraduate. But she seemed pretty good at rolling with it all. She was careful not to say too much, so as not to embarrass herself in front of the younger, savvier students.
I learned that this woman's husband wasn't all too keen on the idea of her going back to school. Something about the expense, the time commitment, all that. It was very important to her that she gain her husband's approval. Her grades were mostly exceptional. The one "B" she earned devastated her.
She told a classmate one day that she did all of her reading, writing, and studying after everyone had gone to bed at night so that she could remain engaged in the family activities. She had also given up her extracurricular activities, which clearly made her sad. She had to do this, she explained, because she was working a full time job and a part time job in order to keep school from affecting the family budget.
During the three years that it took me to finish the program, I watched this woman grow. She started to share her experiences of working with troubled teens at a local psychiatric hospital. She questioned and challenged - herself as well as instructors. She eventually shared some of her own past trauma in an effort to help future counselors understand what it is like to be the one being counseled.
A story circulated around the program that one night a new adjunct professor insulted her in front of the class. She responded with quiet dignity. He left the university shortly after the dean attended a class meeting to monitor him. From what I knew, she had never been the proactive type, but would rather have just "blown off" this sort of offense. He must have crossed a boundary with her.
The woman I met evolved from a shy, insecure follower to an outgoing, confident leader. She unobtrusively inched from the fringe to real camaraderie. Old-fashioned, conservative opinions were replaced with open-mindedness and acceptance of diversity. Fear of the unknown gave way to eager anticipation.
In some ways she is barely recognizable. But if you look deeply enough you can still see traces of her true core. Compassion, empathy, pain and recovery. Yeah, she's still there.
I did something I never considered possible. I... fell in love with this woman. I know her pretty well now, as well as anyone can know someone who continues to change. I am anxious to see what will become of her. Maybe what I should say is that I am anxious to see what will become of me. That woman is me. And I am proud to know her.