The next morning I headed to Rutgers; it was decision day. Not having very many clothing options, I decided to wear a black and white polka dot dress with a white scarf. I also wore my colorful beaded necklace that Marcella gave me with the healing stones on it. It all felt a little strange because the dress and necklace didn’t match and I had a mo-hawk that I wasn’t completely comfortable with, but I didn’t have much time to dwell on that; I had to get to campus.
I spent the first part of the day in a PhD orientation that felt endless. My meeting with Dr. Clear wasn’t scheduled until 1PM and the morning seemed to drag by. It was torture. I listened to presentation after presentation about student life, and academic integrity, and parking spaces and blah.. blah.. blah... It was very difficult for me to focus on seemingly minute details when I didn’t know if I would be staying at Rutgers at all. My future at Rutgers rested on what Dr. Clear had to say at 1:00PM.
At some point in the morning, Dr. Clear came into the orientation to introduce himself to the new students. I was surprised to see that he was an average person, just like the rest of us. I think I’d hoped he might glow, or have a faint halo hovering above his head; but he was a regular white man, average height, average build. He did have a special energy about him, however. I could hardly wait to speak to him privately.
We finally broke for lunch at 12:30, and by this time my anxiety level was through the roof. Rather than eat, I decided to take a walk to collect myself before my meeting. I could feel tears welling in my eyes; I was overwhelmed. Sad… Anxious...
I had to take an elevator to get downstairs and a happy young black woman joined me on the way down. This young woman struck me because she had so much joy. She introduced herself and welcomed me to Rutgers. She told me that she was in the criminal justice master’s program studying major art theft, and that she’d gotten her undergrad degree from Princeton. We struck up a conversation about Princeton and art theft, and I began to feel a little spark of interest. It occurred to me then that the field of criminal justice is very broad and fascinating. I had not considered becoming an expert in art museum theft, but how interesting to encounter someone who had.
She also asked me about my interests. I told her about the women center; our rise and our fall. I told her about how Governor Christie eliminated our funds from the state budget, and how we’d fought tooth and nail to save the center. “We were unsuccessful, and now I’m here,” I said. “Hopefully I can do the type of research that impacts policies that will positively impact disenfranchised women,” I told her.
“Wow,” she said. “So you’ll be like a Pheonix rising out of Ashes..”
Whoa, I thought..
She had no clue, but that was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. She was referring to the women center, but she had no idea that she’d just spoken life into my circumstance. God had dispatched an angel with a very important message for me: some day, some how, some way, I would rise out of the ashes of my circumstance…
Just like a Pheonix
I was ready for my meeting.
Dr. Clear’s office door was slightly open around 1PM; I knocked before entering. He invited me in and gestured for me to sit down on his office couch. He got up from his desk and came to sit directly across from me in a chair. I told him my story, all of it: The women center… Kesner… He put his hand over his heart, squeezed his eyes tightly, and let out a sympathetic gasp when I told him about Kesner. He understood.
“Just give me a chance,” I said. “I am not fully recovered from this, but I promise you that when I return to me, I will make one hell of an advocate…” I fought my tears. I wanted him to know my passion, the sparks of it that still remained.
The truth was that I hadn’t thought critically about the crisis of the US penal system in the time since I’d been grieving Kesner. But I remembered what it was like to feel so passionately about the many injustices inherent in American “Justice.”
“My passion will return to me,” I vowed. “Just give me a chance.”
I told him that if I wasn’t funded, I was prepared to go home. “Don’t go,” he said, “I don’t know how, or where we’ll find the funds, but I’m going to work to make sure that you are funded. In the meantime, just show up to class.” Classes were to begin the following day and I was not registered. What Dr. Clear was suggesting was that I just show up to class anyway.
I could do that.
I left the office that day with hope. Nothing was in stone, but I was encouraged that Dr. Clear had said he would do all that he could to help me. In the meantime I would select the classes that I was interested in taking and I would just show up and see what happened.
That afternoon I went to see an old friend, Denise. Denise ran a women center in Newark and we sat on the same board together while I was directing the women center in Trenton. To call Denise a friend would have been a stretch at one time, because we often disagreed in our monthly board meetings. When the announcement was made that we’d been zeroed out of the state budget, I was wildly upset and Denise was very calm. It made me angry that she wasn’t as mad as I was, she was a black woman who was about 20 years older than me. She seemed so accepting of everything. I was mad at her for not being mad… And to her, I seemed very naïve.
I went to see her after my meeting with Dr. Clear and we went for a walk around the campus and talked. “You were so angry,” she told me, “you took the loss of the women centers so personally. But what you didn’t understand was that God was trying to move you. The foundation that you were standing on was too weak to hold you, God wanted to re-plant you in fertile soil.”
And in that moment, I got it: I had treated the women center as if it were my own, as if I owned it. I took it personally when we lost funding. But Denise was right that the foundation was weak. Could it be that God wanted to re-plant me in a place where I could grow? Where the impact of my work would stretch far beyond the confines of one community? Could it be possible that what seemed like a terrible loss to me was truly just the process of life? The movements of God?
With each step on our walk around the Rutgers Newark campus, I could feel the ground beneath me. This was my new home, I could feel it. It was all very clear. I had been replanted in fertile soil; in a place where I would grow.
I had been replanted in the fertile soil of Rutgers University; and suddenly I felt overcome with possibility…
© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012