Being a graduate student has its blessings. I have the chance to read and learn new things, enjoy new experiences, broaden my horizons and see the world through older eyes that grow wiser by the day. And yet, in a world far removed from all that I have known and loved, all these new things are learned slowly and painfully, all these new experiences are often enjoyed alone, and every day, although my horizons are broader and my wisdom is greater, I still go home to an empty room.
Every day, it seems, is no easier than the first – but every day is an opportunity to find something new about myself that I did not know before.
I’ve found that I can no longer stay up for as long as I used to, and that I’ve lost a lot of my old energy to study and write. However, I can actually wake up early and get a lot done during the day, and then spend my entire night vegging out in front of the TV. I sometimes fall asleep to CNN, or the Discovery Channel, and then dream strange things, like U.S. presidents testing out myths on unsuspecting sheep.
I’ve found that I can still write novels, and that I have a writer still inside of me, waiting to emerge. I miss blogging about my experiences – and I miss this blog. I’ve blogged in other places, tending to other people’s needs and whims, but hardly to my own. In this blog, I am home, and now, as I type these words out, I feel a sense of comfort that my other blogs cannot provide.
I’ve found that I actually have some talent for photography – or at least a sense of which camera settings to use when I need to take people’s pictures. I’ve taken lots of pictures in these last few months, and they’ve served to keep me grounded, to open my eyes to the many great things that I may have failed to see.
I’ve found that I am selfish. I focus on my pain a lot, and I forget that there are far more things in this world, far more things outside of my own little bubble, my own clumsy little shell, than selfishness will allow me to see. I find myself happier after helping out at a local shelter, or assisting my friends with statistics problems. I only hope I get more opportunities to do these things.
The local shelter affair, actually, was one of the best nights of my life. I’m a member of the Purdue Catholic Graduate Students organization, and one night in the autumn, we decided to help out at the homeless shelter by serving sandwiches and salad. My job was to hand out ham sandwiches and to say hi to the people who came to the shelter. I had more fun helping out, to tell the truth, than all the time I spent dancing the night away or having a big meal at a local restaurant. I know it sounds silly, but really, I wish I had fulfilled that wish I had years ago, of celebrating my birthday at a children’s hospital back home. I miss doing things for other people, and not so much because I want fuzzy feelings to wrap me in and warm me up – but – well, simply put, because I want to do things for other people. I just want to.
That isn’t to say that I don’t have fun with my friends. One of my dearest buddies, Kimber, has been instrumental in keeping me grounded. From trips to a local national park, to nights spent watching West Wing and simply not thinking, I’ve gotten a good dose of graduate student life, minus the hardships – or at least minus the dwelling on the hardships. I even went to a local barn dance and made a fool of myself dancing the night away, all while I was high on hot chocolate.
I may whine and groan about graduate school, and I may threaten to hang myself if I have to endure yet another lecture in statistics, but to tell the truth, I would never trade this opportunity for anything in the world.
I only wish that many other students could experience the excitement of graduate school, whether it’s studying a new field so late in your career, or learning about the world in ways that you never knew you could. For instance, I’ve learned that Marxism isn’t as evil as it’s hyped up to be; it’s actually a theoretical foundation on which to build one’s power of perception. It allows us to look beyond the status quo and to ask questions about what might be, what could be, what should be, instead of what seems to appear. I think I should vlog about this…
Speaking of which, I have a video log as well, and you can find it in YouTube. Just go to username racheleverdene (for everyone who’s read The Romantic, this should sound familiar) and, well…endure the torture of having to see Inez yak away and get her frustrations or happiness out.
Someone once said that Filipinas are the bravest women in the world. We can go to distant places and work or study, without regard for how deeply and painfully we are uprooted. We travel miles, in both earthly distance and vision, to make sure that people back home have a great future ahead of them, or will soon have one, thanks to us.
I don’t know if I’m brave. There’s still so much to be afraid of, like things happening back home over which I have no control.
My grandmother died recently. For those of you who don’t know her, she was like my mom. I was her first grandchild, and she traveledto help my mom take care of me. I had been born underweight, my mom had work, and I had to be tended to, so my Mama Emma stayed in Manila, fed me formula and waited six hours for me to finish a small bottle, and made sure that I was alive and literally kicking and happy. She made sure that I would have a future. She was one of the first to stand over my cradle (or crib, or even the dinner table, where she had to lay me so that she could see me and hold me better), one of the first to watch me sleep, one of the first to stay by my side.
I just wish I was there with her when she left; I wish I was one of the last to stay by her side and watch her, and pray for her, and repay that enormous debt of gratitude that I owed, and still owe her.
I wish I had been able to really say goodbye, and not just tell her over the phone. I wish I had hugged her, whispered in her ear, and thanked her for everything. I wish I had been there to say sorry for all the times that I had been arrogant, for all the times that I had been ungrateful, for all the times that I had thought so much of myself that I had forgotten how much better, and greater, my humble grandmother was.
They say that death makes saints of us all. My grandmother had her shortcomings, and in my human weakness, I had focused on them. When she had a stroke a few years ago, she lost sensation on one side of her body, and could not speak or read. I knew it was frustrating for her, and I knew how helpless she felt – but I had the gall to think, however briefly, that perhaps she deserved some part of the pain. And this, from the grandchild who would never have lived, breathed, and succeeded, if not for her grandmother.
I wish I had never thought that way, to condemn my grandmother unjustly. And I wish I had all the time in the world to say sorry. I sometimes feel that this isolation, this loneliness, is my payment for my stupidity.
Last year, I wanted to go home for the summer of 2009, and one of my many reasons was to see my grandmother and show her pictures of what I did here. I was planning to go visit her so that I could say sorry, so that I could truly repay her for all that she had done for me. I even planned to bring home the soaps and lotions that she liked, along with bags of food that she loved to eat.
This summer, I am going home to a gravestone.
I dedicated this year’s NaNoWriMo novel – again, a winner – to my grandparents. The plot is whimsical: it is semi-autobiographical, and it starts on the day that my grandmother dies. My character is about to go through the final leg of her semester in graduate school, and is about to go it alone, when her grandparents’ ghosts appear to her and start helping her. My character tells their story, her family’s story, and in the process finds out about herself. Again, the plot is whimsical, but sometimes, when I go through my unfinished draft, I wish that it were true.
I hope no one ever tells me, “Don’t cry, it’s just your grandmother.” She was never ‘just’ my grandmother. She was like a mother to me, and I owe her a lot. I miss her a lot. I miss her now, and I’ll miss her terribly on that day when I get my PhD.
Don’t tell me that I shouldn’t be sad. Don’t tell me that I shouldn’t grieve. I’m 29 years old. I know how I feel, and I’m not going to kid myself. I may have already apologized to her for being condemning, I may have already changed my ways, but I still miss her. And I still love her. Why should I not grieve?
Duty calls again. It’s December, a time for me to start working on the last of my papers, a time for me to wrap up the semester.
Every day, I find out something new. Today, I’ve found new strengths, new weaknesses, new burdens of guilt that I must leave by the wayside so that I can go on. Today, I’ve found that I can bake cookies and write notes and do a paper all at the same time. Today, I twisted my ankle while taking pictures in the snow. Today, I read the First Reading at Mass – and found out, upon getting to the lectern, that I had rehearsed the wrong reading. But the reading went wonderfully well. My pictures came out lovely. My cookies are great. My papers are coming along just fine.
There are a lot of things missing. But I’m going to count my blessings as they come. After all, Christmas is coming, and then Spring, and then my summer vacation…things will be better soon. One day, they will be better.
The sun will not shine wherever you go
Hence, bring your own sunshine
But go forth like a burning star that madly shines
And warms the world like fire
On a cold winter’s night