"Let's plunge ourselves into the roar of time, the whirl of accident; may pain and pleasure, success and failure, shift as they will - it's only action that can make a man." -- from Faust by Goethe
Fall classes will resume on the campus of Idaho State University tomorrow. For the first time in eighteen years I won't be starting another year of classes as so many students will be in the days to come.
My semester will begin when I have healed from back surgery, a laminectomy and discectomy as a final resort following fourteen weeks of physical therapy, four rounds of oral steroids, and two epidural lumbar injections.
It has been a summer of physical struggle, personal as well as academic failure, and private heartache.
I have battled my share of health problems, but I have discovered that there are few as frustrating as back injuries. There is so little you can do with back pain and so very little you can do about the pain. However, fourteen weeks close to home has taught me some valuable lessons. Lessons I may have never learned with the everyday distractions that health and strength allow.
I've learned that a summer spent mostly at home is not a quiet summer at all.
The first summer I have not enrolled in classes in my college career turned out to be rather academic regardless. Before getting healthy became my number one priority, I made it to Boise for some research at the state archive. Research that rewarded me with valuable information for a writing project I've been working on for over four years now. Great strides, though I honestly have no idea where it all is going. Oh, the life of historians.
That same trip to Boise I was able to participate in some of the Democratic State Convention activities, attended a marketing meeting for the state history journal, and caught up with the Idaho progressive bloggers.
Looking back, that drive home from Boise was the pivotal moment of the summer. It was the longest drive anywhere for me both physically and emotionally. I fell off the wagon, so to speak, chewing an entire pack of bubblegum between Mountain Home and Twin Falls. I made so many stops that drive I don't even know where I stopped to post a music video. My physical therapist would tell you that I'm still recovering from that trip. I can't argue.
I've learned that stubbornness can deceive a body, but has no weight when it comes to the heart.
On a very personal level I learned that for me, always the careful calculator and analytical planner, spontaneity and impulsiveness is ultimately devastating. Having plans, goals, control and constraint works for me. It has worked for me far more than impulse ever has. I need to trust that.
The last three months have brought three lifetimes of regrets. The thing I regret most, though out of my control, is that I was unable to take a road trip to northern Idaho with my kid brother. He has forgiven me. He is always forgiving. He is that line in Train's "Drops of Jupiter" personified: "Your best friend always sticking up for you even when I know you're wrong." Perhaps the ongoing realization this summer has been just how much that young man means to me. Siblings share a bond, this is undeniable, and our connection is a bond nothing can break. We've been through far too much together for that to ever change. Of this I am certain.
This summer my brother and I have watched as our grandparents have started to show age. We have watched as our grandfather has slowly forgotten the names of his grandchildren, as he has lost track of the days and nights, and we've watched as he has lost his ability to care for himself. I've listened to the same summary of the books he has been reading more times than I can count. Having now memorized his stories, I cannot complain. I will listen for as long as he wants to tell them. For me he is the only father figure who has remained in my life all twenty-three years of it. For both my brother and I, our grandparents have been the ultimate example of love and loyalty. Two people who have been together for nearly sixty years and who love each other to this day as one battles dementia and the other Parkinson's disease. This summer I've realized that these two people who have loved me unconditionally, supported me every step of the way, and who have been largely responsible for the adult I've become, will not always be a short car ride and telephone call away.
I've learned that there is never enough time to spend with those we love.
This summer has taught me that I will at times have to apologize for things I have no control over and that apologies are not always enough.
In the academic realm, this summer has taught me that a person can only do so much in an environment that does not appreciate individuality. In fact, this is a lesson I've been learning the past year of my life and hadn't grasped entirely until this past week when it unavoidably came to my attention that fitting a mold is more important than succeeding in some environments. This realization goes hand in hand with that of knowing all the money and esteem in the world cannot replace good mental and physical health. A degree is worth nothing in a field you can't appreciate and if you can't be happy on the road to get there.
To clarify, this past week I walked away from a generous stipend and scholarship because what it would take to get prepared for the work would detract from my journey to get healthy. Maybe not being healthy is a blessing in disguise, one that will allow me to move on and seek a degree I actually want after I've had the time to properly heal.
Before this summer I would have regretted this decision immediately after making it. However, now knowing what I do about my priorities and who I am, I know that it is one of the best decisions I've made this summer. And my friend and mentor, the person most responsible for guiding my academic progress, didn't even flinch as I walked away. It helps when others respect your decisions. Her faith in me on what was perhaps one of the more difficult days of this entire summer is not something I will soon forget. I wish I had as much faith in me as she does; I wish I had as much faith in myself as I have in her wisdom. Without her calm concern and continued effort to see me reach my potential, this summer may have seen me walk away from academia for good. I've said it before and at no time in my life have I understood it more: There are some people we will be thanking daily for the rest of our lives.
This summer ultimately opened my eyes to the fact that my days at ISU are numbered and as wonderful as it was for me when I boarded a plane in Cleveland, Ohio to come home, it is no longer the most ideal place for me.
I've learned so much and yet I know that some lessons I will be learning for the rest of my life.
There was a summer not too long ago that I was enrolled in classes, traveled to Dallas, was unemployed, spent a great deal of time painting with watercolors, had an empty fridge, and was ridiculously happy. That summer seems like many lifetimes ago. If the length of this summer is any consideration, it was lifetimes ago.
For all that I've learned, all that I've lost, and all that I wish I could do over again, I have never anticipated the end of a summer the way I have this one.