Photo by Andrew Draper on Unsplash

Row Toward The Waves

When Your Teacher Karma Returns To Haunt You

“Hey, we chose this, you know. We don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves,” says my periodontist, chuckling as he links his experience in grad school to mine.

Because it’s not enough to have had this stranger’s sharp instruments in my mouth, his words have tiny hooks on them too.

Normally, such a cliche would slip right past me like an ad on the side of a bus. But it stuck with me as I walked back home in air so cold my eyes blurred with tears.

I’m always surprised by how cold Boston winters are even as I look at the temperature on my phone. Somehow, that number never translates into a proper reckoning with its reality: The sensation of breathing in tiny knives, the slightest breeze like ice water on every piece of exposed skin.

Hey, you chose this, you know.

When I wear a robe and plastic sandals to the shared bathroom five doors down and wait in line to brush my teeth. When I sit in a dining hall with a tray of contract food. When I close the door to my room and know it is just me inside it.

You don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.

I’m always surprised by how uncomfortable it is to be a middle-aged woman living in a college dorm. And the vulnerability of every room for me. Everyone seems smarter and objectively better as human beings.

This is my teacher karma, I tell myself. I’m having to live the cheery advice I give my students:

Fear is temporary, regret lasts. Go and see what’s out there. Row toward the waves.

That’s easy to say when you’re waving and cheering from the shore. When you’re not the one stepping into the boat.

When you stop rowing for a moment and realize you can’t hear their voices. When the sky darkens ahead of you. This is the decision: row toward the waves or return to the shallows.

Here at the beginning of my final semester on campus, I’m rowing toward the waves.

Again.