About a year ago, I bought a set of postcards at Uncle Fun's, the coolest shop in the world. The postcards were a hodgepodge of goofy images: Yassir Arafat eating noodles; Leonard Bernstein in casual clothes directing an orchestra, looking over at the camera; Nelson Mandela with the Spice Girls and Prince Charles. And of course the postcard pictured here of Kurt Vonnegut.
My co-best friend Andreas (a job he shares with my friend Jim) had been telling me how much he missed me, and asking me to come out to visit him in Seattle. The fact of the matter was that I hadn't seen my parents or in-laws for two years-- I'd been to busy or broke to travel to see them, and my priority was finishing nursing school. Achieving that goal was going to open up a lot of doors and ease my money woes. So I told him that I'd mail him one of these postcards every couple of months with an update-- and that the last postcard I'd hand deliver. I mailed the Vonnegut postcard-- the second to last one-- on Wednesday, the day I finished nursing school and turned fifty.
So on Wednesday, I passed through two milestones. I turned 50 and finished nursing school. There were significant obstacles involved with both. With nursing school, it was a variety of things: my wife getting laid off when I was in my first semester; a recession that affected my own income; the unexpected rigor of the program-- my associate's degree in nursing was way harder to get than my Master's degree in Political Science. And of course, I was going to nursing school in a gang-ridden neighborhood; the corner I took this picture from has seen five gang-related shootings in the last year, several of them fatal, some of them during school hours.
And of course, my journey to fifty was filled with hazards that were mostly self-inflicted. I was an angry wild-ass and smartass when I was younger. At my thirtieth birthday 20 years ago, my friend Larry got up and announced that the turnout was so good because most of the people there (including two ex-girlfriends) didn't really think I'd make it to 30.
It's funny then that my lowest degree-- an Associate's degree-- is my most valued and hardest-earned. That middle shelf of books-- that's been my life for the past two years. Well, not completely. The friends I made in the classroom and in clinicals were too. They will be lifetime friends. We will be following one another's career progress, and sometimes contacting one another when there's a good job opportunity. These people who I studied with, commiserated with, sweated test scores with, people who came from every background, every age, even different countries sometimes-- we were bonded by this experience.
Nearly two years ago, on the first day of nursing school, my beloved Nursing 101 teacher, Mrs. Murphy, suggested we do something: to make a little nameplate that had our name, with the title "RN" on it, to help us keep out eyes on the prize. I took her suggestion that night. And through it all, sometimes it seemed like if it was going to happen, it would be a hundred years in the future. I put my little "RN" nameplate away for a while, but as the end of nursing school approached, as it became clear that I was going to succeed in this journey, I brought it back out and put it near my little work area in the kitchen. I am one test (the state nursing board) from the sign becoming a reality.
I worried a lot about working full time and going to school full time-- that I would miss out on time with my kids. I realize now that they were totally ready for whatever sacrifices they had to make. They wanted to see me in a job and career I liked. And as they approach college age, it wasn't the worst thing in the world for them to see me getting a college degree, and to see that sometimes you have to persevere even when things don't go perfectly.
In the end, it was almost all good. There was one casualty-- albeit a temporary one. My beat-up old Schwinn that got me to class for the last few years finally became inoperable this week, when a spoke broke. Of course, it broke next to the spoke that was already broken, making a wheel that was already wobbly wobble to the point that the bike couldn't be ridden. I plan on getting the wheel fixed. But next week. This weekend, on Saturday, my wife and kids are throwing me a "turned 50 the day he graduated from nursing school" party.
They keep hinting around about some kind of surprise. I'm curious. Already, most of my favorite people in the world will be there-- my mother, my kids, my wife and most of my closest friends. And I'm curious about the gift my old friend Matt sent-- apparently he collaborated with my son on it via Facebook. I'm not sure entirely what will go on tomorrow. I do have one thing I've planned, though. One of the traditions in nursing is for a new nurse to be "pinned" with a nursing pin by another nurse. I talked to my friend and neighbor Jane who is a nurse. I've asked that she participate in the pinning ceremony at the party. But I'm going to have my mother, who came to town for the celebration, to do the pinning. You see, between her three sons, we have seven college degrees. The mother (and father) who bought her kids a set of encyclopedias before they could read, set the stage to value education. My mother never got to go to college. She was busy raising three boys and working. This accomplishment is as much of hers (and my father's) as mine, and I want her to do the pinning.
1. Eleanor Rigby- Joe Jackson
2. Birdland- Patti Smith
3. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head- B.J. Thomas
4. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues- Bob Dylan
5. Crystal Ship- The Doors
6. Mother Of The Bride- Billy Bragg
7. Color My World- Chicago
8. Hold Back The Tears- Neil Young
9. Beep, Beep- The Playmates
10. Tracy- The Cufflinks
1. One of my favorite covers of a song.
2. Patti Smith is on my "bucket list"-- favorite artists I have to see in my lifetime.
3. Guilty pleasure
4. From "Highway 61 Revisted," a tri-generational album in my family-- loved by my 72 year old father, 50 year old me and my 17 year old son. Yeah, it's that good.
5. My son was recently telling me how he just discovered that the Doors' eponymous first album was not, as he first believed, a "Best-Of" album. It's great bumper to bumper.
6. Love this song. I'm no longer bitter about the woman it reminds me of.
7. One of the guys from Chicago went to my son's high school
8. From "American Stars and Bars," an underrated album.
9. My brothers and I thought this was the greatest and funniest song ever when we were kids.
10. Seventies one-hit wonder.