I will always be thankful to California for offering a lifeline when the future seemed darkest.
During my two years of hospitals and rehab in Vancouver, B.C., Hadi was not allowed to work for income. (Trust me, he was the best, unpaid caregiver!) He waited two years to get the permanent residency status that permitted him to work legally in Canada.
The same week his residency card appeared in the mail, I was offered a fellowship at the University of Berkeley.
It was no contest: My desire to return to full-time journalism had been stalled by more reconstructive surgery, more recovery, more physical therapy, and many more doctors.
We were both tired of it — deeply grateful, but exhausted.
Berkeley was truly a godsend: One year at the Graduate School of Journalism as an “international visiting scholar” and all the courses, lectures, and campus activity I could manage. (The title was so lofty, I always joked the grad school had made a mistake.)
We lived in bliss, in a sun-filled apartment near campus. We fell in love with Berkeley’s eucalyptus trees.
Rehab became a joyous, daily routine of walking Berkeley hills for international relations, Middle East-Asia history, women’s issues in developing nations, American foreign policy, and Canadian studies.
God bless the Canadian Studies Department at Berkeley. They offered a second fellowship, with cash. It helped pay the rent on our tiny apartment.
We met the best people at Canadian studies lectures, and we’re forever indebted to Tom Barnes, then-department chair, for adopting us. He and his French-born wife, Jeanne-Marie, always invited us for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at their book-filled home in the Berkeley hills. Their home was so welcoming, their friends became our friends.
I met Tom while working in Washington, D.C., interviewing him several times because he led U.S. scholars studying Canada. Tom claimed he was the only Republican in Berkeley. Everyone loved him. He always called Hadi “the world’s best husband.”
My year of journalism school helped convince me to leave the business.
I’m especially thankful for meeting so many smart, accomplished students. Their curiosity and energy was infectious.
I was humbled by their writing.
As “valedictorian” for the international scholars (I was the only one from Canada; all were from China), I told graduates that journalism would thrive with such dedicated witnesses, regardless of technological or corporate changes facing them.
I was still mourning the loss of working in India, and decided to become a rehabilitation counselor, to help others through trauma, as I had been helped by so many medical professionals.
I wanted to specialize in helping veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I wanted to give back to the men and women who had saved my life in Afghanistan.
It was vital to find a way to repay the kindness of those who stood for hours in the dark in the desert cold, lining up at the Bagram base in Afghanistan, to donate blood so I would make it through trauma surgery.
Studying at the graduate program in rehabilitation counseling at San Francisco State University was transformative.
Coping with pain and disability, I learned about other disabilities, and learned how to be a counselor for individuals, groups, and — for a remarkable year interning at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living — couples. My “clients” taught me more than professors, and I am quietly grateful for that.
I am humbled by their teachings.
I am always grateful to Dr. Patricia Becker, the psychotherapist who was my oh-so-patient supervisor. (“Kathleen, where did you get that idea?” she would ask, always astonished, it seemed, to find a former journalist among her PsyD grad interns.)
I studied Freud and Jung, feminist and multicultural theorists, the brutal history of pathology-based psychology, and the emergence of social justice counseling. Carl Rogers became my guide to a new way of listening, and accepting others.
I learned, especially through my internships, what Rogers meant when he emphasized the word “unconditional.”
To embrace an old veteran, broken by war, and scarred by life — especially Vietnam vets — is to gain an even deeper definition of that word, and feel it in your heart. (My second internship, at Swords to Plowshares, is part of another love letter, later this week.)
In class, I learned about disorders and diseases I still can’t pronounce. The DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and Steadman’s Medical Dictionary were not only daily companions, but saved me from buying weights. (No kidding: Total weight, 10.8 lbs.)
I said prayers of gratitude every day, walking across our usually fog-soaked campus, because I was so fulfilled and content to be at school in San Francisco. (It was so foggy I didn’t realize for months that our campus was actually close to the ocean.)
Delighted by the opportunity to return to school in my 50s, I studied and read and wrote papers and earned As in almost every subject. All, except stats.
For two years, I struggled with statistics. We could barely afford the tutor who helped me pass two stats courses, but I couldn’t have graduated without him and his cartoon-like “stats for dummies” book.
I was only half-joking when I told friends I was destined to be the oldest student on campus. (I envisioned young students whispering as they passed a white-haired woman in the halls, “Who’s that?” … “Oh, she’s the elder counseling student who can’t graduate because she can’t pass stats.”)
Thanks to my long-suffering stats profs. Thanks for your endurance. Thanks for the Cs.
Not only am I thankful for the patience and kindness of SFSU’s counseling profs, I am grateful to the university for introducing me to some of the finest people I know. I made lifelong friends there — Frances, Patricia, Vanna, Lauren, Melissa, Tina, Sandra, Angel, Dan … there weren’t many men in counseling classes.
Some were “mature” students, like me (OK, I admit, I’m never growing up), returning to school after children and/or other careers.
And others, bless them, were 20-year-olds who are among my best friends still.
I cried when I graduated in 2008, the joy was that intense.
(My mom came from Canada, and my sister and nephew from Georgia, so I cried because they were there too.
“Look at me, Mom, wearing gold and purple tassels!”)
With campuses in the news because peaceful protesters are hurt by police, I am comforted by the memory of four great years at two universities, in better times, in the eucalyptus groves of California.