This week I faced a chore that I kept putting off. I still had nineteen loose leaf notebooks full of lecture notes and all the university papers I had written. I loved my time in school, which didn’t happen until I was in my 50’s. Thoroughly committed to the opportunity of further education, I enjoyed every moment, and felt blessed to be in my professors’ classes. But now that I’m moving back to England, humping nineteen notebooks around the world doesn’t make practical sense. A mighty big pruning job was in order. I dreaded it.
I sat down with my dog, Cherokee, one night and tuned into the Celtic CalmRadio channel. Then I went through every notebook, just as friends who stop to have a last cup of coffee before parting ways. Page after page of information stared up at me while the inspiration of people sharing knowledge and opening minds together filled my mind and heart. I said goodbye to Physics and Stages of Human Development; I nearly wept as I parted with Perception and Physiology of the Brain. Even Statistics, the domineering schoolmaster of science which had terrified me with the stilted tempo of its title, had captured a part of my heart.
One by one, the toppling tome-pile shrunk. At the end of this paper exorcism, I found myself with two notebooks that I could not bear to leave behind. The first contained all my lecture notes and writings from Professor Doug Rice’s Creative Writing classes. Two hours with him was like entering another whole lifetime. His passion for story and words instilled me with a Jesuit’s love of perfection and beauty in every shade of existence. His commentaries on my assignments still teach me today and every time I struggle to read his nearly indecipherable pen, I learn something new about life – which means, of course – about writing.
The last notebook was a journal I kept throughout my days in a volunteer project – an assignment that was inspired by the Children’s Literature class. For one semester, I went to Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services and spent one hour every week with thirteen children; all but one of them were children of Hispanic workers. For the first half hour, I would read a 14-page illustrated storybook to the kids, stopping every few pages to ask questions and involve them in the story. Then when the book was done, I’d have a craft ready for them to make and the craft would relate somehow to the story. As we worked, we talked, or rather, they talked and I listened. They were such beautiful kids with spirits that shone.
One day we read a story about a Native American grandfather who was preparing his grandson for the day he would leave this physical world. I asked the kids how many had grandparents who were alive and they all raised their hands. Then I asked how many of them got to see them regularly, at least once a year, and only one child raised his hand. The kids’ parents had no legal papers to be in the country; one of the consequences is the physical rift between loved family members. It broke my heart and I suddenly realized how important my reading to them must be. It was a humbling moment. At the end of the semester, the kids surprised me with a party with cards and cake and gifts they made, and they crowded around me and climbed all over me like a pile of puppies. I realized I had become the Native American storyteller – a figure I’ve always loved, with multiple children seated upon and around her.
This notebook is a journal filled with notes about each story and craft and about how the children responded. It contains all the emails the Director and I exchanged and her handwritten letter of thanks, saying that the program was so successful, she was contacting the college to see if they could continue doing it with an internship program. The photographs show kids’ faces entranced as I read, or their hands busy making memory necklaces and forming clay pots.
After spending hours of notebook pruning, the two branches I could not bear to lop brought me to an epiphany. Professor Rice had commented on one of my stories that he felt I “hadn’t identified the ontological core.” He suspected the story’s core was about the loss of my family and my search to bring it back. So finally, it hit me. It all boils down to this: I spent six years in college only to discover that my greatest desire and goal in life was something I’ve wanted since I was a little girl. I wanted to tell stories, and when I grew up, I wanted to be with my grandchildren climbing all over me.
In a few days I begin my journey back to my family, back to England. There my childhood dreams will become reality.
Life is such a blessing.