I was 106 years old.
At least, that’s how it felt my first night on campus, wandering around sweaty and bedraggled amongst all those young, fresh-faced twenty year olds in my Mom pants, trying to locate my classroom in the Tory Building at Carleton University. I was almost late for my women’s Bridging class, a course basically designed to bridge the distance between me and a post-secondary education, and I was almost frantic.
Okay, so I don’t have Mom pants, but you get the picture…
Once located, I blew into the room with a bright smile plastered onto my face, despite the fact that I suddenly felt as though I might vomit right there on the floor in front of everybody. Casually, or so I thought, I slipped to the back, tripped over my own feet, stumbled awkwardly into a chair, and stole a few glances at some of the other women before clumsily extracting my pen and notepad from my backpack. Nobody looked convinced they would be able to sit through the whole three hours either.
Okay, so it’s not just me, I thought. We’re all scared shitless. Cool. My kind of people.
Angela, who sat to my left, quietly introduced herself, and added, “I’m totally freaking out.”
I liked her immediately. Forever.
During break, Angela and I swapped the nut-shell versions of our life stories and our reasons for returning to school, further solidifying our bond. But it wasn’t long before our friendship had grown to include every woman in the room. On that first night, there were about eleven of us altogether, but by the second or third week, our little group had whittled down to an even six: Raven, Elizabeth, Dana, Rose, Angela, and myself, plus our engaging instructor, Olivia.
Six is a harmonious number. Just ask Numerology.
Over the next twelve weeks, we became a community. We learned and struggled together, sharing successes and small victories; we encouraged each other, offered support and friendship, and shared one of the most important seasons of our lives. Once in a while, we met to break bread and share wine, and to whine about how hard it was to make such a significant change in our lives, what a challenge it could be to juggle our everyday lives with our education. We also discussed how amazing it felt, after decades of lying to ourselves, to discover how intelligent and capable and brave we actually were!
Because, well, we were, and we needed to pat ourselves on the back for it once in a while.
Angela had lived through hell and survived. I admired her ability to stay vulnerable and open to life, and adored the fact that she could make me laugh and cry (multiple times) in the same conversation.
Raven, although not the eldest, became a mother-figure to our little band of misfits. Many times, she was available to lend and ear or offer sage advice, and I learned to trust her natural wisdom implicitly.
Elizabeth seemed more reserved, initially, but once she opened up, she blossomed. Always thoughtful and kind, Elizabeth had a keen intellect, and we had many wonderful, thought-provoking conversations.
Dana always had the information. Unbelievably resourceful, kind, and genuine, in all areas of her life, Dana was also an incredible hostess, who went to great lengths to ensure her guests had a great time.
And Rose was doing school for her. She didn’t have goals or plans beyond Bridging, at least not as far as an education went, since she was fairly close to retirement and quite comfortable in her life, thank you very much, but she loved to learn and discuss the issues and always brought something new to the table.
Olivia—a.k.a. Oh Captain! My Captain!—changed my life. I will forever be gratefully indebted to her for being the first teacher ever to recognise my potential and urge me to fulfil it. Olivia made learning accessible and adaptable. She acknowledged our barriers to success and, rather than discount them, offered solutions and examples of others who had faced similar challenges and overcome them.
Although different paths had led us here, to this crossroads, for a short time we had landed in the same space, and it mattered that we had each other for company. Crossroads can be lonely times.
Our first class email from Olivia was titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
Should I stay in my comfort zone or should I step outside?
It was a decision we all faced, and it was a comfort to face it together.
We covered a lot of material in a short amount of time. We researched and searched for journal articles on the university library database, learned about Peer review and how to cite our papers, studied some sociology, learned how to define hegemony, and wrote essays, among other things. But the most important things we learned, as far as I’m concerned, happened on a very personal level and had to do only with ourselves.
Our unlimited potential.
At our small class graduation, there were no dry eyes in the house, and when we met again a couple of weeks later to celebrate, we all cried again and promised to stay in touch. For the most part, we have.
I entered university with a confidence I had never known before, thanks to Bridging, and within one year, I had published my first essay in a national publication, the Globe and Mail. This summer, once again, I had to decide…
Should I stay or should I go?
But this time, school was my comfort zone, and the unknown was myself.
Again, I chose to take a leap of faith. As I take the next steps in my journey, a hiatus from formal education to further my goals as a writer, I take with me the love of these women and the strength, wisdom, and self-awareness I discovered in Bridging class.