This time last year I was in Nebraska.
Although I knew I HAD to go spend a month there if I wanted to ever finish my degree, it was a hard decision to make.
After a nightmare of a year created by a broken family and the chaos that dominates all that is and all that just might be with such a rupture, the last thing I wanted to do was leave my three Chickens behind for a month while I chased a dream.
Up until I actually got on the plane and stepped off in the middle of Lincoln, Nebraska, I struggled.
I struggled packing.
I struggling boarding the plane and sitting patiently as it jetted across the country.
The first morning I woke up, it was Mother’s Day. I missed the Baby Chicken’s First Mother’s Day.
I went for a long run and slept in. I probably did what most mom’s would have liked to do on a day celebrating motherhood: do next to nothing and spend the day dibbling and dabbling in whatever struck my fancy.
I missed my kids.
And then I moved into a dorm.
And it was horrible.
It was smelly and dank and lacked air.
It wasn’t pretty.
And then classes finally started.
And I came to appreciate the ease of education without the constraints of family obligations.
And along with classes and school work and networking, Nebraska was an essential time in my life for several reasons.
The first one I wrote about here.
I had forgotten about this post.
And I am glad I re-read it today.
Part of the power of last year was truly being challenged by people who knew I could, theoretically, overcome the chaos of my life.
And not only knew I could overcome the challenge, they expected me to.
No questions asked.
People set high expectations of me.
People who didn’t know me expected more of me than I could have possibly imagined.
People reminded me that, perhaps, if I took the time to open my eyes and focus on something more than living one breath at a time, I had more than a fighting chance of succeeding.
I came home from Nebraska energized. And focused. And determined.
And perhaps with a new sense of self and a new sense of confidence.
I think that I regained some of my trust in myself and my purpose.
The other side of Nebraska was the people.
I met some very important people, there.
I met faculty who have pushed me to work harder and better than I thought I could.
They challenged my ideas, they challenged my writing, they challenged my goals.
One specifically has pushed me to just be a better person. To think harder, write more and with more passion, and not lose focus on becoming a fulfilled person so I can be a better parent. He has become a mentor, a support, a critique and someone who has given me a shoulder to cry on and has pushed me out of his door with my arms poised and ready to take on whatever fight showed up next.
Another key person on my Nebraskan adventure turned out to be one of the best friends anyone could ever hope to encounter in life.
So key, in fact, that today we texted like teenage girls celebrating our one-year ‘Friend-aversay.”
What started out as his attempt to give me a “pity party” birthday dinner turned into a friendship that is undefinable in its reaches and its power. As my faculty and peers were busy creating an esteem in my in terms of my ability to finish my degree and make something of myself, he was busy teaching me how to live again.
When I think of Nebraska, I think of countless hours in classrooms and sitting in front of a computer.
And I think of random laughing fits, adventures in the outskirts of Lincoln, story-telling, late night snacks, thunder storms, tears, promises and a dear, unexpected friendship.
The powers-that-be always talk about the idea of people coming into our lives at exactly the moment we need them.
Nebraska is my living example of this.
I needed faculty mentors to remind me that I was more than just a mom and more than just a struggling wanna-be academic.
And I needed a friend that reminded me I was human. That it was OK to laugh and cry and struggle and fight and smile.
Although I think back and I know I missed my kids terribly when I was gone, Nebraska was when my life got “jump-started” into action again.
I needed the people who surrounded me.
I needed them to remind me that I was more than just a broken shell of a girl.
And although that session of study was a gift, I know that it was hard.
There were lots of tears and feelings of guilt and failure.
It was hard knowing that I wasn’t living up to the expectations people held for me.
And it was hard knowing that I wasn’t living up to the potential everyone seemed to see in me except myself.
It was also hard building a friendship.
I remember one day we were driving to dinner and he asked how my “chat” had gone with one of the professors.
The chat was based on one of those honest, yet raw truths that burns your soul as your digest it.
And I started crying before I could even say what the conversation went like.
(and in all honesty, that conversation was a HARD converation to have, but one that radically altered my world view. It just might have been the hardest, yet most powerful conversation anyone has ever had with me…and although I think that she knew was she was doing, I am not quite sure she understood the depths her “pull your shit together” talk had on me)
He literally pulled the car over and looked me in the eye and said we would sit there until we figured it out.
It was odd.
It has been so long since anyone had taken that much interest in making sure I was OK.
It was an attention I didn’t quite know what to do with.
He said, “well, anyone would do it” – yet, the thing is, very seldom does someone care so much about your well being they drop everything they are doing to just give you a shoulder to lean on.
I think the power of that friendship is that he is my optimism when everything I am holding on to seems to be dipped in a slip layer of pessimism and disgust.
He reminds me to laugh and smile while I power through life. He reminds that I am stronger than the problems I am facing. He reminds me it is OK to struggle and that regardless, it will be OK in the end.
I consider myself very lucky for Nebraska.
Once upon a time, I was accepted to several other doctoral programs. All programs I didn’t enroll it so I could focus on my family.
(i.e. my ex-husband didn’t support me, and I accepted his word as rule)
I enrolled in my current program due to the strange maze of life I wandered in when I was married.
But, I can say that enrolling in this program was the smartest thing I could have done.
Right in the moment in life I needed something to remind me of myself, I went to Nebraska and I was surrounded by people who ignited my passion for education and reminded me of who I am….
Who I am as a whole, living, breathing, loving person.
I’m not sure I would have gotten that anywhere else.
Nebraska was my saving grace.
And it continues to be.
The last few months have been admitted struggles for me.
And as I was sinking to a place of confusion, Nebraska came into my view again.
A group of my professors and student cohorts were in town for a conference.
And being surrounded by them was exactly what I needed.
My research partner was possibly the highlight. We laughed and talked shop and solved the world’s problems.
He also kept me focused.
And made me feel protected.
And took me under his wing.
He was the big brother I needed…and handed me a napkin when tears started to roll down my face and plop into our presentation notes freely and promised me nobody noticed me crying.
I met with faculty who were just as intent on me getting through this program with as much success as quickly as humanly possible.
And we laughed and shared stories.
We talked politics after having too much wine with dinner and I somehow convinced the department head to give me a job teaching yoga as part of a wellness program in the department.
And it felt good to be part of something.
The last year has been an adventure for me.
It has been hard.
But, so much has been so good.
And I thank Nebraska for helping create my path and helping me succeed.
And I thank my Nebraska partner in crime for helping me keep my head above water these last 12 months. We text, like I mentioned before, like teenage girls, but, we are each other’s support systems and probably number one fans. He is the definition of a true friend and I am grateful and thankful for every little text I get.
And it sounds silly, but in a moment of practicing gratitude, I am so thankful for the people, faculty and student cohorts alike, who have helped me regain a sense of self and a sense of purpose. Earning a PhD is a pretty amazing thing. But, in truth, the PhD is just a silly piece of paper with a title I am going to (eventually) walk away with. The power of the degree is embedded in the people.
And for them, I am thankful.
So, cheers to Nebraska.
And thank you.
I couldn’t have made it this far without you.