The Beginning of Tomorrow
I had always wanted to go back to school. And one day, thirty years later, I did. I don’t know what gave me the guts to do it other than a real burning desire to finish something I had started years ago. When the day came to register, I was terrified and got “cold feet.”
“I decided that I’m not going back to school,” I told my family. “I don’t really want this after all. I’m going to forget about it.”
My daughter, who was a freshman in college at the time, sensed my apprehension. “Mom,” she said pleadingly, “you’ve wanted to do this all your life. I’ll go with you to register; I’ll even stand in line for you.” And that she did.
I had dropped out of college in my senior year, and now it was like starting all over again. I didn’t know where to start. As chance would have it, in one of the first textbooks I opened as “an older returning student,” I came across a quote by Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” My sentiments exactly, Mr. Carroll. Thank you.
But it had been a long time since I had “cracked a book.” I studied sometimes eight hours a day, forgetting to eat lunch or feed the goldfish. My husband and I would have to make dates in order to see one another, and at times I felt guilty for choosing to spend an hour in the library and then having to make dinner from a box.
When my graduation day finally arrived, I was ecstatic. Not only was I fulfilling a lifelong dream, but my daughter was also graduating – on the same day. We had a mother-daughter celebration with family and friends, proudly displaying our newly-acquired Bachelor of Arts degrees. I have never been so proud of my daughter. And when my daughter stood next to me at picture-taking time, our black robes blending into one, I could tell that she was very proud of her mother.
Shortly after graduation, I attained a teaching credential. And because I loved to learn and found teaching to be one of the best avenues to learning, I decided to continue my studies and go for a Master of Arts degree in education and creative writing. It was an excellent choice. I loved teaching, and I loved writing. And with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, I could combine the two.
Graduate school was exhausting and overwhelming at times. I cut my hair short and got the first permanent of my life so that I wouldn’t have to bother with setting my hair… and I found out that I could live without my nightly rendezvous with Ted Danson from “Cheers.”
The next two years flew by, but it wasn’t easy. At one point, I came home from school, threw my books on the kitchen counter, and announced to my family: “I’m quitting! I’ve had it!” After crying for a couple of hours and talking it over with my family, I realized that I had come too far to quit now. I had run the race well, and I was tired. I decided I would take one day at a time, resting along the sidelines.
I was in my final quarter of graduate school with only one class left to take when I found out I had cancer. Cancer. Was I going to die? Would I have to leave my children so soon? Would I be able to finish school?
A couple days later, shaken and apprehensive, I appeared at my professor’s door, leaving a puddle of tears and broken dreams on his shoulders. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We can work something out.”
“But I have to go to Los Angeles for seven weeks of radiation therapy and won’t be able to come to class.” He suggested that I do my work in Los Angeles and send it to him through the mail. We could keep in touch by telephone.
“And don’t give up,” he said adamantly. “I have never met a student with so much determination. You are the kind of student teachers come to school for. And you have to use that same determination to fight this thing.”
I promised him I would finish my school work, and I would fight for my life. The kitchen table in my apartment in Los Angeles became my desk for the next seven weeks. I would go for my treatment and return to my apartment to study and write my papers. I mailed my completed assignments from a post office nearby.
Right before Christmas, I graduated with honors with a Master of Arts degree in education and English. My graduation day was special for a lot of reasons. I had finished my radiation treatments and had finished my school work. My husband and my children, along with my mother, sister, and brother, were in the audience of the auditorium when they called my name and handed me my diploma. My eyes met their eyes and I wanted to shout, “Hey! Look at me! I did it!” And after I passed my tassel to the left side of my cap from the right, I waved to them like I was royalty. Queen Elizabeth had nothing on me!
As I write this piece, I am eighteen years free of breast cancer. I take each day and live it, celebrating the miracle of each brand-new morning.
Over the years I have had the privilege of teaching many children and have lived to see them doing great things with their lives. And best of all, I have lived to see my daughter become a teacher and my son, a psychologist. Talk about pride!
And in my quiet times, I write – something I’ve loved to do since I was a child.
Life doesn’t get much better than this.
LOLA Di GIULIO De MACI lives in southern California where she gathers inspiration for her stories, some appearing in The Ultimate Series, Tending Your Inner Garden, the Kids’ Reading Room of the Los Angeles Times, and in several editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Lola realized her dream when she graduated with her bachelor’s degree at age 51, and a master’s degree at 55. A retired teacher, she continues writing from her loft overlooking the San Bernardino Mountains. Contact her at: LDeMaci@aol.com.
SONIA MARSH SAYS: Your story Lola, is the perfect example of someone “gutsy,” who never gave up. I love what your teacher said, “You are the kind of student teachers come to school for.” Your family must be as proud of you as you are of them.
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