Love Your Spouse Day 3
Do you know how much guts it takes to go back to school when you're 47 years old?
Jim's intelligence struck me from the first, regardless of his education. When he graduated from high school, seventh of ten children, there was no money for college. He never even took the college entrance exams, because college was for those who had money. Instead, he served his country in the Air Force, and then worked on loading docks and in factories for decades - until he was laid off.
And then we realized just how hard it is to find a job when you don't have a degree. The warehouses and the factories weren't hiring. He worked perma-temp jobs, where the warehouse farms out staffing to a temp company, which can lay them off at will. That's when he was kneeling on a concrete floor for hours on end, and brought home a pittance of a salary because of course the temp agency got its cut.
Getting a job as a janitor at the university got him off the concrete floor. But there was still a worrisome cloud on the horizon. He was in his late 40s, with a bad knee. All it would take is a fall, or lifting something with his back instead of his legs, and doing his job would become impossible. What does a manual laborer do when he cannot labor?
Without a degree, there was a paper ceiling right over his head.
That wasn't the only reason to go back to school, but it was a compelling one. He wanted the freedom to be able to apply for different jobs if he became physically unable to keep doing manual labor jobs. He wanted options, so that he could earn more money to help support our family. But there was more to it than practicality.
Jim has a wonderful mind, a natural intelligence and creativity that he had already explored by writing his early books. There were stories in his head, and he learned as he went without the benefit of writing workshops and mentors. His talent was raw, and it needed shaping. We often insist that the only way to learn to write is to write, and that is true. But endless navel-gazing on a blog (ahem) or writing short stories for an online audience that always applauds will only develop your talent so far.
Still, it was a year after he started working at the university before Jim applied for admittance. And yes, I pretty much had to put him into a headlock to do it. He had it solidly ingrained in his mind that he wasn't smart enough for college, that it was for rich people and geniuses. I reminded him that I made it through college, and I am neither rich nor anywhere near a genius.
I had made it through, and I knew what it takes. I knew he could do it. It took some convincing for him to figure it out, too. So I put him in the headlock, and he applied. He was accepted. And he began college in the fall of 2014, only a few months before we were married.
Halfway through that first semester, something happened that told me I'd done the right thing by kicking him. He had a literature class in the early afternoon, and often would take the bus home afterward so we could see each other however briefly before he had to return to work. This night-shift/day shift stuff is for the birds.
I was up in my office, saving the world for democracy. He came in through the front door, flung my office door open and yelled up the stairs, "Mother of God I love school!"
I couldn't stop laughing. He eventually explained that they'd had a lively, fascinating debate in his literature class about... an allegory of something or other. He was participating in the discussion, sharing ideas with fellow students, learning from them as well as teaching them what he knew. It's the excitement one feels when sharing a passion with others of a like mind.
He's taken to school like the proverbial fish to water, his fondness for literature expanding into his newfound fascination with philosophy - and thus two minors added to his English major studies. He walked into classrooms full of kids out of high school, kids whose early Spanish and basic math classes were only a year or two in the past, whereas his Latin studies and high school algebra belonged to the ancient history of 1985. He refused to be intimidated. He relearned how to learn, and it opened up whole new worlds for him.
Jim has finished two years of college now, with summers added on. He continues to work full-time while carrying twelve hours of classes each semester. Each day he gets up and dives into studying and writing for hours before he takes the bus to school, attending classes sometimes all afternoon. Then he punches in at six o'clock, and spends the night cleaning the very classrooms he attends by day.
He comes home at two in the morning, long after Boy and I are in bed. Sometimes we truly are ships passing in the night, and when he's juggling three term papers and midterms and I'm up to my eyeballs in some murder trial, we might find that texting is our primary form of communication.
And he is on the Dean's List.
People keep asking him, "What are you going to do with your degree?" As if the only reason to pursue an education is what you're going to get for it. His education is a reward in and of itself. It has improved his writing by leaps and bounds, opened his mind to new things, and if it means that he might be qualified to apply for a job he likes better in the future, that's a great thing. But it's not the only thing.
I couldn't be more proud of the work he's done, because only part of it is in the classroom. Before he could defeat quantitative reasoning and the works of Kafka, he had to defeat the little voice inside that said not for you, that's for the Special People, not good enough. All of us have that voice to one degree or another, and watching someone fight it down so they can achieve their goals.... that's inspirational.
I can't wait to watch him walk across the stage wearing the world's silliest hat, knowing what it took him to get there.