I’ve been reflecting alot lately… and thinking way more about life than I normally do (and those who know me that I contemplate life alot). I just got back from a week break at home in SC and now we’ve begun Spring Quarter – new classes, new beginnings, but still maintaining some sense of the routine too.
Last night as I tossed and turned in a sort of melancholic state, I began thinking about isolation, and you know what? It really stinks. I think that graduate school offers an interesting take on isolation: You’re constantly surrounded by people — students, classmates, professors, friends — but at the same time, you’ve never been more alone. Or at least that’s one of my personal opinions about it.
Let me explain: I came to graduate school fresh out of undergrad – and I moved to a place where I knew absolutely no one. My closest family is 6 hours away – a quarter of a day’s drive away. Everyone I knew from undergrad was going their separate ways, or staying put and starting their lives in the “real world.” I moved at the end of the summer and started a demanding one year Masters program, unsure of my next move (The next year I began a 3 year PhD program… I’m currently finishing up my second year, to give some perspective of the time elapsed). Needless to say there was much uncertainty.
Don’t get me wrong: I have met a ton of wonderful people, people who are my closest friends and have become like family members to me in my new home-away-from-home. And for them, I am eternally grateful. I’ve stayed in touch with many friends from home as well. I have no reason to feel isolated because I’ve got such a great support system. Yet, the isolation remains.
You see, doing graduate work is, in and of itself, an isolating experience. Yes, you go to class where you see and interact with other people. Yes, you collaborate sometimes on research. But at the end of the day, you spend alot of time alone trying to get things done. Everyone gets so tied up in deadlines and papers and finals that the few social interactions you have that are NOT school related become fewer and further between. And, inevitably, those social interactions end up becoming school related, because there’s no way to separate yourself from your work. It becomes who you are.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, not exactly. But, to have some sense of sanity, it is healthy to take some time off too. Sad thing is, that your time off often becomes time off plus sneaking in some work on the side. As I said, it becomes YOU.
So last night I tossed and turned, feeling sorry for myself. I have friends, but I’m so busy that the ones who live further away I only get to talk to on occasion. The ones who are here are also quite busy and when we try to get together, something usually comes up for one or the other of us and plans get cancelled, which further perpetuates feelings of isolation. I was feeling homesick after my wonderful week with my family, and let’s face it, this southern girl got a taste of her “70 degrees and flip flops” weather for a week and returned to gloomy greyness! Woe is me! I was throwing myself quite the pity party at 1AM, when I should have been sleeping so that I could get up for my 8AM class. And finally something hit me that really helped me to put some things into perspective.
We are in the season of Lent, a time for contemplation about what Christ did to save mankind and open the gates of Heaven. Honestly, the first half of Lent – a time that is supposed to be spent on personal reflection about how to make amends, to better yourself for Christ’s resurrection at Easter – for me just wasn’t happening as it should. I didn’t feel the kind of personal reflection that I was doing really made me better of a person. It seemed run-of-the-mill. Sort of stuck in a rut, going through the motions kind of same old same old. I’m not sure why.. but something was missing. There was an emptiness. More isolation. There I laid having a pity party and not feeling grateful for the blessings that I DO have in life. I chose to reflect on the negative, the isolation. Then, I realized how selfish I was really being.
Instead of reflecting about my perhaps slightly blown out of proportion perception of personal isolation, I suddenly felt moved to reflect on God – and the first thing that came to me was The Agony in the Garden, perhaps the most ultimate example of utter isolation, anguish and despair.
My plight is nowhere near that of Christ’s. It almost seems silly to be having a pity party about isolation when it is immeasurable compared to that which Christ faced. Reflecting on the Agony in the Garden gave me an entirely different perspective on what I was going through. I am by no means going through (or beginning to go through) the trials and tribulations that Christ faced during His Passion.
|Carl Heinrich Bloch – Agony in the Garden / Photo Credit: Full Circle
As we approach the halfway mark of Lent this weekend with Laetare Sunday, I’m feeling a little bit better about the personal reflection part of Lent. I’m ready to take the turn in the direction in which Laetare Sunday nudges us and am anticipating the coming of Easter, such a joyous occasion in the Church! [To date, not sure of of my Easter plans. Since I'm so far from home and without any break from school, that's not an option. I'm contemplating going to Latin Mass though!]
So where does that leave me? Yes, things get difficult in graduate school. Sometimes the world seems to go by a such a rate that there is no time for anything else besides work work work. There are times when you’re going to be alone physically. But are we ever truly alone? I am grateful for my physical support system of people who, near or far, care about me and are there for me when I need them. However, we often forget about our more invisisble support system, the one that is present day in and day out, no matter what we say or what we do. The one that is always there – even when we forget about Him.
Sidnote: I fell asleep shortly after this revelation last night… in the peace of Christ’s love for me.
Copyright 2011 Mary Catherine Kennedy