One More Mountain

One More Mountain

 I sat on the front row of the balcony overlooking the crowded auditorium.  When the participants in the center section stood, I eased forward to the edge of my chair, holding my breath, as if by doing so I could prolong the moment.  “Sheldon Hale.”  An involuntary shout escaped my lips and I applauded triumphantly.   It had taken him seventeen years to complete his Master of Divinity degree, and I wanted him to hear my joyful exultation.  Suddenly shy and embarrassed, I realized that I alone was standing while all others were sitting quietly, watching the ceremony.   I sat and glanced at the card my Mother-in-law had handed me a few moments earlier.  On the front cover were the words, “Son, you finally made it . . . .”   Inside the message was completed, “. . . but I always knew you would.”

Nine years later it was my turn to finish at Murray State University, what I had begun at Western Kentucky University nearly thirty years earlier; my degree.  Those intervening years had been chock full with rich and rewarding pursuits.  Our three children were grown,  I had sewed wedding gowns for both my daughters, was enjoying the grandchildren as they came along, had parented twenty-five precious foster children and already taught first grade for twenty-four years.  My role as Pastor’s wife had taken me down intricately complex paths as I juggled children’s choirs, speaking engagements, and many church responsibilities. Sometimes my brain seemed about to explode with overload of data intake, and I wondered if I were about to lose my memory.

One day on the campus of MurrayStateUniversity, I lost my car in the middle of a parking lot located roughly a mile from the nearest building on campus.  As I stood searching not only the parking lot, but also my memory, I felt like a little girl I had once taught in first grade.

She had come into my classroom that first day, knowing nothing about my class rules and routines.  By the end of the day I had taught her, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”  The next morning she tearfully approached my desk, and between broken sobs, explained to me that she had forgotten where to put some of her things.

Surrounded by hundreds of cars, I became that little girl.  This very morning I had parked a small white car somewhere in this massive asphalt jungle, and now I was unable to sort through my mind and remember where exactly it was that I put it.  I felt afraid, confused, and insecure.  It was good that no one offered me any sympathetic words of consolation.  I feel certain that the gathering fears would have become liquid and streamed down the furrows of worry that etched my face.

My frustration had started that morning when I arrived on campus wearing heels and feeling very professional.  I got into the line that I thought was the path toward my goal.  Forty-five minutes later the person at the desk told me I was supposed to first “go to that line over there.”  Okay, I thought, no problem.  So I moved my satchel over to the next line and waited patiently for the fifteen people ahead of me to finish their business.  When I described to the pseudo-friendly person at the counter what I needed, she informed me that I must go to the desk in the basement.  I’m generally a flexible person, so I gathered up my things and trekked to the basement.  The line there was about ten people long, so I waited, patiently.  Yes, I really did.   Ah, finally it was my turn and I could even sit in a chair while I related my “problem” to the receptionist.

“Oh no,” she said. “You can’t do that here.  You need to go to the Registrar’s office up on first floor.”

“But upstairs sent me here,” I reply.

“I’m sorry, but they were in error.  You simply must go there before I can help you.”

Back on first floor I ask a lady behind the counter where I should go to speak with someone about a registration question.  She points out the direction, and I arrive there just in time to hear a student receive the bad news.  “You can’t graduate this spring because your paper work is not in order.”   As I see the tears accumulate around the inner edges of her eyelids, I ache.  Just as I begin to feel empathy for that student, the bearer of the bad news turns to me.  “May I help you?”

I explain the problem.  Even before I finish, she informs me that her office has no authority in this matter.  “Go to the basement.  They’ll take care of you.”

“I was already there.”

“Well, I’m really sorry . . .” (which I am beginning to seriously doubt), “. . . but that is the only place that can help you.”

One more time I return to the basement.  This time the line is all the way out the door.  Never mind all the manners I have learned over the years.  Gently pushing my way through the crowd, I tower over the secretary in a bit of an obnoxious way.  Finally she looks up and asks, “Yes, what is it?”

“They say that I must see you to get this problem resolved.”

“Let me see the paper you have.  Hmm, yes, just a minute.  I just need to sign this form and you’re home free.”

 Home free.  That would be nice about now.  Home.  Free.  Free of all this nonsense.  Finally I have all my necessary paperwork complete and the first day of classes arrives.  Never being one to do things the simple way, I schedule for twenty-five hours.  My commute is over eighteen hours a week, and I have a bit of a life outside school time.   Did I mention that I am also teaching full-time?  At the conclusion of the first day I know I am in over my head, so I drop one class.

Now we are in the full swing of things.  Homework is beginning to mount higher and higher, as are the stack of dirty dishes and dirty laundry at home.  Each evening as I face my computer to sort through my accumulation of notes, I find that a little invisible demon sits upon my shoulder.  He begins his nightly negative message recital.  “You can’t do that,” he whispers. “You know how difficult learning has always been for you,” he taunts.  “You’ll make horrible grades,” he jeers.

I reach out across time and grab hold of a fleeting memory that bobs upon the many waters of a lifetime of experiences.   My memory settles on the story of the Little Engine that thought he could.  “I think I can . . .  I think I can . . . .”   I’m claiming the strength God promises me in Philippians 1:21. I’ll need something beyond my own ability.  My stamina isn’t what it was when I was twenty years old.  As Minnie Pearl always said, “My get up and go has got up and went.”

My feet ache as if the bones are protruding through the bottom of my heels.  My calf muscles are tight. Fire burns my lungs as I gulp down icy air. Surely passers-by can hear my heartbeat as the blood races through my veins.  My back is as effective after an hour and a half of sitting in a lecture as a rusty bicycle chain. Each link is so rigidly fixed and inflexible that I dread having to sit again in the next class period.

There are visible spasms as the muscles play chase up and down my arm from the elbow to the wrist.  Semi-permanent indentations mark my fingers where I’ve held too tightly to my pen while taking notes.  My elbow craves an ace bandage, an application of HEET, and perhaps a full day of grace without carrying a twenty-four-pound bag of books.  Am I complaining? You betcha’!  Do I want to quit?  Absolutely not!  I’ve come too far to quit!  Oh sure, there are always things to complain about, but in the end those things are small potatoes compared to the goal I have in my sights.

I love the exhilaration of learning new things, or of re-learning old things, long forgotten.  There’s nothing more nostalgic in my memory than the sound of chalk hitting the board and the occasional sound of the chalk as it squeaks irritatingly across the surface.  Those noises of an empty classroom coming to life as first one, then two, then a dozen or more students enter, fill not only the room, but fill my memory with the pleasant thoughts of “school days, good ol’ golden rule days.” Learning is about to happen. 

 Though the crisp breeze has pushed, pulled, and tempted me to skip class and to come out and play, I have resisted the urge, and been a serious student.  I attend all my classes, finally find my car, drive home, fix supper, sort the mail, return phone calls, and start my homework.  A lifetime of adult commitments, time schedules, deadlines, and responsibilities has taught me to use my time efficiently, setting priorities and then working within those parameters.   Finally, homework completed, I can fall into bed. There is no time for a late night television show, leisure, or play.  Tomorrow begins the process all over, and the homework load will be just as heavy.  I’ll dream of an afternoon away from the school routine . . . maybe this Sunday afternoon, or then again, maybe next summer.

There is a persistent, irritating sound.  I knock over the nightstand and almost break the alarm clock as I grope in the darkness, reaching for the source of the noise. I realize as I come more fully awake that the phone is ringing.

“Hello?”

 “Mom, did I wake you?”

 “Uh, Son, what time is it?”

 “It’s 10:30.  Are you already in bed?

 “Yeah, I’m bushed.  My classes are about to get the best of me.”

 “Well, I won’t keep you.  Just wanted to let you know I’m proud of you for going back to college.”

 I hang up, feeling refreshed, though tired.  I’m fortunate.  I have a wonderfully supportive cheering squad, my family.  They seem to understand that this is important to me.

 Perhaps someday when I cross the platform and receive my earned degree for the work I’ve completed, my children will send me a card.  I’ll open it, and with tears of joy and satisfaction I’ll read, “Mom, you finally made it  . . . but then, we always knew you would.”

These thoughts were captured almost eighteen years ago.  I finished my goal and walked across the platform to receive my diploma at the age of fifty. My family was all there to celebrate.   I’ve continued teaching first and second grade children until my retirement this year, enjoyed playing with my ten grandchildren, and have decided to be serious about writing my book.  However, technology just keeps changing and I’m already far behind.  Though I finally switched from my Royal typewriter, graduated to a Word Processor, and then into Windows XP, I have discovered I must once again move forward.  Today, I bought Windows 8, and am already feeling a bit apprehensive.

The phone – it’s my youngest daughter.  “Mom, you can do it.” 

“I don’t think so, honey, it’s just too hard and after all, at my age, I don’t think I can learn all this new stuff.”

“Mom, you’re talking like an old person.  This isn’t like you.  You can do anything you set your mind on.”

And so, a new journey begins – again.  New things, new challenges, new mountains to climb….and the thrill of climbing. 

How about you?  Are you reaching out to learn new things?  Are you enjoying the mountains you already climbed?  Look just down the road and you’ll see yet another mountain just begging for you to experience, explore, and enjoy.  Go for it, be a little engine that thinks he can…and start up that mountain. 

 

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