Wednesday, April 27, 2016

And in other news

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” — Michelangelo

AS ONE would expect, I've been preoccupied with wondering and worrying about Paul's heart. The good news is that his heart monitor results came back, and according to the readout, Paul had only two a-fib episodes of about two minutes each in the 48 hours he wore the monitor. 

That's not how it felt to him, however. Our hope is that the irregularities he's felt that have been much longer and more pronounced than the monitor revealed are a function of his heart still healing from the atrial ablation procedure. It's a really, really good thing if it's not been a-fib.

And so as the old groaner goes: "Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" 

The diet

We're continuing our weight-loss regimen. I've lost 16 pounds, and Paul has lost 22. I have three more pounds to lose, he has 20. Until reclaiming it, I didn't realize how much I missed the body I've long been accustomed to. I'm really happy to fit comfortably into my 2s again. The bad news is that although I'm pretty close to being the right size and weight, I'm so, so flabby! Now the hard part starts: toning my (albeit smaller) way out of shape self. Yikes.


Some of you may have seen Paul's extravagant praise of me in March when he announced that he had finally graduated from the University of Iowa with a music performance degree. If you read it, you might have felt that it was a fine example of hyperbole; naturally it helps to have a supportive spouse, but surely such an exaggerated panegyric is over the top.

Here's the backstory. Paul didn't graduate 30 years ago due to an administrative error. All was well until about three weeks before graduation when his advisor notified him that he wouldn't get his diploma because he was failing an obscure geography class. He couldn't have been failing it, however; he wasn't in it! Nonetheless, it meant he wouldn't graduate.  

He had made plans to move to Texas, and that's where he headed three credits short of a degree. While he lived in Texas, he took classes like calculus at Austin Community College just for fun. Not my idea of a good time, I must say, but whatever floats your boat. (Did I mention that he's really smart?)

When he moved back to Iowa five years later, the first thing Paul did was contact the University of Iowa to see how he could complete his degree. They told him it would take almost four full-time semesters — in other words, two years — to complete the degree he missed by three credits. 

He gave up.

Paul and I met shortly after his return to Iowa. Two and half months after our first date, we were living together; a little more than a year after that we were married, and so life rolled on.

Eventually he told me the story of his non-graduation, and I could feel how much pain this unfinished part of his life was causing him. It was palpable! 

It was a source of shame for him that he wasn't a college graduate despite having spent almost six years in college (he could easily be a perpetual student), acerbated by playing in bands with so many of his former college buddies all of whom had of course graduated. He also felt ashamed that he hadn't marched into someone's office at the time it happened and demanded something be done to fix what wasn't his mistake in the first place.

As the years passed, I kept suggesting that the climate and process for adult learners had improved, and he should drive over to the U of I and knock on people's doors until he found someone willing to help him, but the subject was fraught with too much pain and shame.

I'm a member of the Rotary Club of Des Moines, and in July of 2004 then-president of the University of Iowa, David Skorton, came to speak to our club. I button-holed him afterward and asked him whether he could assign someone to help Paul sort through what he needed to do to finish. It was, after all, sort of ludicrous that he wasn't an "official" graduate because when the U of I held a music alumni gala concert, he was asked by the University to participate!

President Skorton said he'd get someone on it, and for about six months or so Paul and an advisor sorted through what would and wouldn't transfer to satisfy existing requirements. Unfortunately, none of his Austin CC credits would transfer, but nonetheless he and she were making progress until she developed cancer, and Paul never heard from her again. Still, before she disappeared, she had been making it sound as though it would take at least three full-time semesters to graduate.

By now Paul was more discouraged than ever. A decade rolled by; I was hesitant to broach the subject any more than I already had since his last try had only served to confirm in Paul's mind the impossibility of ever completing his degree.

Then two years ago, Sally Mason, who was then President of the University of Iowa, came to speak to Rotary. Once again I button-holed. President Mason listened intently and said, "I'll put someone really good on his case."

And she did. Peter Hubbard worked with Paul, and over the course of several months what had been two years of requirements to graduate turned into two classes: one upper level computational class worth three credits and one fourth-semester foreign language worth four, both of which could be taken at Des Moines Community College.

After no small amount of coaxing and encouraging on my part, he took logic last spring and aced it (of course), and then German this past fall semester. 

Paul was not at all sure he was up to walking into fourth-semester German since it had been literally 30 years since he studied it. Because it's only offered in the fall, he had the summer to try to refresh him memory and catch up, but when it was time to enroll, he nonetheless remained convinced he couldn't do well enough to pass. I suggested that although that might indeed be true, it would be a much better idea to test that hypothesis by trying, rather than assuming he couldn't make it. He could always drop it if he had to. 

He aced the class.

So that's why Paul was extravagant in his praise. I had believed in him all these years when he hadn't believed in himself, and I had been persistent in maintaining that he shouldn't be punished for a three-credit error on the university's part.  

It may be tempting to wonder whether finishing his degree was something I wanted, and maybe Paul didn't quite so much. After all he had been rather recalcitrant. 
It's true that I lobbied hard for him to complete it . . . because I could feel how much that unfinished business was hurting how he felt about himself. 

When he finally completed that last class, however, I became concerned! Where was the joy? Where was the sense of accomplishment? I began to worry and doubt myself — my perceptions, my assumptions and even my motives! Perhaps all along it had been about what I wanted, not what he wanted.

But then his diploma arrived. Paul had had a late night gig, and rare for me, this time I hadn't waited up. I was dead asleep when I heard, "Sweetie, sweetie. You don't have to wake up all the way. Just wake up enough to open your eyes a little. I'm going to turn on the light now. Just open your eyes a little bit."

So I did. And there was Paul holding his diploma in his hands with tears in his eyes. He'd gotten the mail when he came from home from the gig, and in the mailbox was his diploma. He'd sat down on the front steps and wept for ten minutes. He said that before then, before he held it in his hands, he just couldn't let himself believe that he'd finally erased the sense of failure he'd been carrying all these years, and just be happy and proud.

He wrote:

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