I started Chapman University’s MFA program at the age of sixty-two. On the first day, I loaded my computer, books, notebook, purse and bulky sweater into a carry-on roller bag and made my way to class. Students forty years younger than I with thirty-pound backpacks bounded up an expansive staircase while I waited for the elevator. I felt conspicuous with my wheels. Of course, I arrived early. I was worried about finding my classroom. Worried I wouldn’t fit in. Worried I might not be up to the work. I felt very much like I did the first day of kindergarten. Growing up, I attended eight different schools before graduating from high school, often transferring mid-year. So the fear of not fitting in was nothing new to me. That didn’t make it less terrifying.
That first day at Chapman, I struggled with the door as I pulled my roller bag after me. Looking around I thought, I’m the only person here with wheels. Just then a young man entered the room. He too had wheels—they were attached to a skateboard but were wheels none-the-less. My roller bag and his skateboard epitomized the reality I faced going back to school at this time in my life. My wheels were a concession to age. His were a celebration of youth.
“Would you mind if I got a picture of us together with our wheels?” I asked. The photo was my way of acknowledging the ridiculous age difference between me and the other ten or so students already in the room. I wanted them to know I got it. I posted the picture on Facebook the next day too, just in case the whole world wanted to know.
Thanks to my age and my tendency to live life outside of the normal sequence, I’ve had many opportunities to confront discomfort. Still, that first day of school was the scariest moment I’d faced in decades. To complicate matters, I’d also started seminary the same week. The bottom line? Now that I’ve graduated both programs, I'm poised to begin my career at the very age most people are retiring. What that means is yet unknown. All I know is that I am changed and very grateful.
Along the way, colleagues and teachers challenged me as a person and writer. I learned better ways of doing things. By year’s end, I no longer carried my books in a roller bag. Too often there was no elevator, leaving me with a heavier burden than if I’d just carried what I needed. So I’ve discovered more efficient, less encumbering ways to get where I to go. The important thing is that, with or without wheels, I’m still traveling. I hope my story will inspire anyone who thinks it is too late to pursue a dream to reconsider. Lao Tzu said, "The longest journey begins with a single step." Adventure is always just a choice away.