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the journey

ebock's picture
back roads
My gender has everything and nothing to do with my life, but my life has everything to do with my education. My education has been from living in the in-between. I have learned about the world around me by moving between cultures, slipping between the cracks, and pulling myself out of them.
I have always been an “old soul:” I have always felt tired. Not the kind of tired where your feet ache or you can’t keep your eyelids open. The way you feel deep down in yourself when you just need to sigh. I have never totally fit anywhere; this weariness leaves me feeling left out of my contemporaries’ circles. Their aspirations are different; they think in the here and now, and I have never been able to keep my mind in the present. The longer I have been at Haverford, the more I feel aged, and the more I see Haverford as a stepping stone. This is only a phase in my process, a stop along the way. My life outside the classroom is of more interest to me, and frankly, more challenging sometimes.
Gender has little to do with it, but what little it does is vital. Being a caretaker has been a significant gendered experience for me so far, and it has been an integral part of the fabric of my life. It’s a string that has woven its way through my time in high school and now at Haverford, and will continue to bind me to my family even after my formal education has ended.
Formal education has only been a vehicle for my real learning. In high school, I had a full scholarship to a boarding school right off of the Main Line. I came from a tiny rural school district, a working class family, and lots of obligations. Coming of age at a school with such a high concentration of privilege taught me to appreciate where I come from, but I also got to meet people like me from different parts of the country who were at the school because of the generosity of others. I learned mostly from those around me: learned about where they come from, what they bring with them. In many cases, I saw what I did not want to be, and sometimes I learned to more deeply appreciate the kinds of people I wanted to surround myself with.
Being at Haverford has been a similar experience. I exist in a strange space between feeling like a “college student” and living out the obligations I have to my family and the people who helped me go to high school. The older I get, the more I have to come to terms with the legacies of the older generations of my family: the pains, joys, struggles, and exultations. I draw up the loose strings; my turn to take on the charge of being the oldest daughter came early. In between my stays at boarding school, I came home to illness, deterioration, deaths and became the caretaker for my brothers, my grandparents, and myself.
For the rest of my life, I see my life as the train ride I have taken so often between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Encapsulated in the speeding metal shell of the Keystone line, I am a site for the fusion of cultures and expectations. I always sit by the window on the train and watch the texture of the landscape change as I go farther west. Buildings grow scarce and cars trickle away as I grow closer to being a real person with real responsibilities, and farther from being the old soul among the young.
I held my grandfather’s hand when he died and could think only of his wish to be able to see me graduate from my boarding school. The man who had worked in a truck factory, served in the Navy, and laid pipe line had been so proud of the girl who is still lost in translation somewhere outside Philadelphia. I cried when he passed, but after that I have always thought of him when I am at school. He reminds me of why I am at Haverford. This education is not about the books, my GPA, or any of that. This education is about a person who wants to repay her family and see a change in the communities around her.
My dreams are the dreams of parents and grandparents, but also mine in an unexpected way. When I am able to provide for my parents and grandparents in the way they have for me, I will feel like my education is near complete. Sometimes I do not understand why I am here. In spirit, I am not always here: my mind is elsewhere. I find it in the future sometimes, preparing to take the next step towards fulfilling my role as caretaker. Other times I find it in the past, wondering why my family has had such hard times and finding a strange joy in the resilience of our nature.
Going through the motions here gets frustrating sometimes; I find myself feeling guilty that I am here when I am needed at home. Where is the practical purpose in sitting in a course dedicated to long dead poets or studying a useless language for a graduation requirement when there are dishes to be washed, wood to be split, and doctor’s appointments to get my elderly grandmothers to? I have to remind myself, though, that being here is necessary; this formal education is a part of my real world education somehow. When I am able to care for the elder members of my family and my siblings, I see then my next goal will be to improve the communities I am a part of. Despite my frustrations sometimes about being at a school like Haverford, I have learned a lot about the systems that perpetuate injustice in our country and our world. I see this as having gained a more intricate understanding of the world I have always known to be a difficult one. This is a stop on the line that is taking me towards being able to provide for myself, my family, and helping others.



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Anne Dalke's picture

Living in the inbetween


there's a poetry in this essay, in its sequenced evocation of images; you move very quickly from traveling the "back roads" to "slipping between the cracks," from feeling "old" and "weary" to using Haverford as a "stepping stone," from the "string" of caretaking "binding" you home to the "vehicle" of formal education, from the "train ride" you see as your life to the "repayment" you see coming due, from your dreams to your frustrations, to end--most paradoxically--@ the "stop on the line" that is taking you where you need and want to be. I think that tumble of (inconsistent?) images works; it helps to name your sense of not-quite-being here-where-you are/n't.

What I'd like to know more about is the contrast you mention several times between the sense of being a "real person," which comes to you when you are @ home, and that of "going through the motions," of being an "old soul among the young" here @ Haverford. You say, on the one hand, that you "have learned a lot about the systems that perpetuate injustice"; on the other, that you find yourself "wondering why your family has had such hard times." Is there anything you are learning about systems that might help you make sense of the individual lives you know so well? Any way to link the theoretical with the practical? (See also Beta's and dvaid's essays, which evoke, too, the ways in which what happens/what's learned inside and outside the classroom can feed one another.)