I wrote this post back in 2007 but the message certainly applies today, too.
The maxim, “Where one door shuts, another opens,” is quoted, most famously, in the 21st chapter of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes’s classic, “Don Quixote.”
And I pondered it today as I opened my mail.
There, on our kitchen counter (buried underneath the old apple cores, brown bananas and three days worth of mail), lay a letter from Boston College–thin, like the one I received 18 years ago that said something like this: “Your grades are good enough, and you’ve got the whole president-of-your-freshman-class thing going for you. But man, girlfriend, you forgot to eat your Wheaties the morning you took the SATs, because your scores truly suck. So, until some smarties decline our invitation to study amidst the academic stars, you get to sit your butt on the bench and wait.”
The thin envelope slightly crushed my 17-year-old heart because my (detailed) plan was to major in international business at BC. My dad and I visited the school in the fall of my junior year in high school, and I fell in love with its campus and its city.
Instead I landed at a college in the ugly city of South Bend, Indiana. And thank God I did.
Because within one week at Saint Mary’s College, my alma mater and spiritual mother ship, I was in therapy and had begun a deep search into my soul, trying to figure out who exactly I wanted to be, and what I needed to do to get there.
The exceptionally nurturing environment of this all-women’s college made it possible for me to begin my recovery from depression and addiction. There, in a setting where teachers and counselors cared enough to get involved in a student’s life–probing her with important questions, and listening patiently while she arrived at some answers–I found my true self, and learned bits of wisdom that have guided me to this day.
Much of who I am today was born in my four years there.
I discovered my inner theologian–a person who wasn’t satisfied with the neat and tidy answers printed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a curious scholar who was willing to go to great lengths to understand her faith (even if the holy trinity is a mystery, in the end)–and the writer, both of whom may have suffocated had I pursued international business (which fits me about as well as Martha Stewart’s apron) at a large college like BC.
Oprah told the 1997 graduating class of Wellesley college that failure is God’s way of saying “Excuse me, you’re moving in the wrong direction.”
As I reflect on some of my disappointments throughout life, I tend to agree with her. If I had landed the publishing job in New York that I so badly wanted, then I wouldn’t have met Eric (and had David and Katherine). My dad’s death, as hard as that was at the time, has, in a way, healed and united our family. My depression has certainly added a new depth and candor to my writing (and to my life), and has provided me a type of rebirth or new direction in each. And, most recently, my running injury has forced me to rediscover my love of swimming and biking.
In 1978 Oprah was demoted as an on-air anchorwoman in Baltimore because she got too emotional with the people she interviewed. She was given her own talk show as a way to finish out her contract. But there she found her true self.
“And so, I took what had been a mistake, what had been perceived as a failure with my career as an anchor woman in the news business and turned it into a talk show career that’s done OK for me!” she said.
Today’s letter from Boston College was thin. But it wasn’t a rejection. On the contrary, it was an invitation to participate as a panel speaker in a national symposium on marriage, hosted by BC’s The Church in the 21st Century Center.
I don’t think I can do it (my no-more-than-25-hours-of-childcare-a-week rule, plus I have little marriage advice other than to say if you treat your spouse with respect and sleep with him at least twice a week, everything seems to fall into place).
But it sure was nice to be asked, and to get my letter of acceptance–even though it was worded a little differently than I had expected.