Hopeful wanderer

I’m running on vapors. Like many of my peers, senioritis has struck me in a big, big way

I suppose I should have seen this as inevitability, since I’m knocking out a four year degree in basically three. The fall breather almost took on a literal meaning with 15 credits and a full-time job. I guess summer should have been the time to recharge, but I had other priorities at the time, as evidenced by my response in speech class at the beginning of the semester to: “How did you spend your summer vacation?”

“I attended a friend’s wedding.”

That’s what I said. Although to be honest, it should have sounded more like this:

“How did you spend your summer vacation?”

“I didn’t have one. I was making funeral arrangements for my father, who I actually just buried this weekend.”

It’s a strange thing going through a semester when someone close to you is dying. On the advice of my academic advisor, I informed my professors in the spring of the situation – lung cancer, already tried chemo, just a matter of time left.

Although the level of support I received varied from class to class (professors Nathan Clarke, Aaron Quanbeck and Jim Shaw were particularly supportive), I can honestly say that I felt the university had my back during the ordeal.

To clarify, I didn’t get any free passes. My GPA last semester was the lowest it’s ever been since starting at MSUM.  I was, however, given the opportunity to succeed despite a situation that made it extremely difficult to make it to class on a regular basis. One presentation ended up becoming a YouTube video.  Some classmates altered their schedules to better fit mine for group projects.  I made sacrifices as well, turning in papers early when it was clear I’d have other matters to attend to during the time of the deadlines.

The one luxury that the MSUM faculty afforded to me was time. Have you ever slept in and missed a morning class to find out later that the professor only covered material in the book? That sense of satisfaction (or relief) pales in comparison to how worthwhile it is to skip class when you have limited time left with a loved one.

In fact, I’ll always remember one class in particular I skipped in the spring, because it allowed me to catch my father at a “good time” when he was speaking clearly and not in a daze from the morphine and other painkillers. That’s time I just couldn’t get back if it were spent any other way.

Having time with my father didn’t really make the situation any easier, of course. There was a point at which I told some close relatives that 2013 would be a lost year. I’d just slot it in the scatological category of life and move on. “Bring on 2014” was going to be my rallying cry, and I felt that way for a long while.  But as time went on, I realized that was more of a cop-out than a call to arms.

In December, barring any setbacks, I’ll be graduating from MSUM. I definitely took Frost’s road less traveled by to get there, but it won’t mark the end of a crappy year; I’ll be preparing for the beginning of a great one.

I’m not done traveling and my father isn’t either. Before he died he said, “Take some of my ashes, and scatter them somewhere. That can be just for you. Wherever you want.”

I grew up hearing about my father’s travels. He sailed in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, hiked foothills in New Zealand, crossed Guatemalan rivers in shallow canoes. I forged my own path through the city streets of London, mist-covered mountain trails in Japan and rocky gorges of Crete. Although our paths diverged, the wanderlust was the same.

There’s one more trip to make, though, and this one we’re going to make together. Of all the stories my father told me of his travels, the one that always stuck out most to me was a quiet moment of reflection down in Mexico, at the ruins of Teotihuacan.

Sometime next year I plan to take a trip south. I’m going to make my way through the jungle, climb the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun and wait for the stars to light up the sky.

It will be the last sunset I share with my father but, hopefully, the first of many new adventures.

BY MATT GLEESON
Email

One response to “Hopeful wanderer

  1. Pingback: When a parent dies while the child is still in college | On Campus | Minnesota Public Radio News·

Leave a Reply