In the early 2000s, I was fiercely devoted to motherhood, dogmatically committed to homemaking, the feathering of the nest in a primal attempt to correct the blinking, cold vacancies of my childhood. Daily I manufactured maternal care, comfort, order and hot food.
But despite my inflexible, mad passion for traditional gender roles, I still wanted to study. Course by course I eliminated prerequisites for a Master’s of English, online and at a local community college. I began, one at a time, taking daunting night classes at Arizona State University—Chaucer and Shakespeare. And somehow—I have no idea how—I read and wrote papers while caring for the two most important beings in my world and cooking every night for my husband and trying to create a home in which the Queen of England might not be too distressed to pass an hour or two. I wore homemaking like a tightly laced corset. It pinched, but I liked how things looked.
It was difficult. So difficult, in fact, I took my troubles into the confessional. I don’t remember my sins (probably impatience with the children, anger with my husband), but I laid out the scenario, my desire to keep studying, the difficulty of working school into a marriage where my role, and my desire, was to be other-focused.
This is what the priest told me:
Get a job as a cashier at Basha’s [the corner grocery store]. You just need to get out a little.
I didn’t get that Master’s degree.
Fifteen years have passed since the priest uttered those prophetic words to me in the confessional. My children are adults now. I’m still married to the same hardworking, generous man who tries to be flexible just as I try to be kind.
Allow me to share the view from my new room at Yale Divinity School:
Please persist, no matter how little is expected of you.
The professor who taught that Chaucer course 15 or so years ago was an elegant woman from India in her 60s, and for some reason she shared in class that there is a certain age at which women become invisible. In my early 30s at the time, young enough and pretty enough, I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. However, this week in this auspicious place, I learned what invisible is.
Please persist, no matter who sees through you.
I am neither unicorn nor miracle. I am not the only one like me here. A woman down the hall is my age. She had children at the same time I did. We were raising babies and cooking meals at the same time, and she was doing it without the benefit of a Bachelor’s degree, which she just finished last spring. As in 3 months ago. And the degree was delayed by a late-life surprise baby. The baby is now 2.
Please persist, no matter how late you think it is. No matter how late it actually is. No matter how legitimate your reasons for surrendering.
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 24