At 51, I've headed back to school

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

(Steve Adams/Steve Adams for The Globe and Mail)

It used to be that spending the day in my pyjamas was a sign that the medications I take to manage my bipolar disease were in need of tweaking.

Now I don’t get dressed because, frankly, I don’t have the time.

For the past 15 years, I’ve had buckets of time. So much time that it often immobilized me. 

Now when I’m immobile it’s because I am connected to my desk and my computer by an invisible chain that allows me to roam to the bathroom, the empty refrigerator and the coffee maker. If I just stretch, I can reach out and rub the dog’s belly. 

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I not only don’t have time to get dressed, I don’t have time to drive to a store to buy food, get a flu shot, pick up dry cleaning from September, send out Christmas cards or have my snow tires put on.

I believed Oprah when she said, “Life begins at 50.” It wasn’t an original thought but she sure did sell it like it was and I bought it. After all, I wasn’t going to die young; that ship sailed decades ago.  I’m sober, healthy and have more of my mental faculties intact than I deserve, given the miles of rough terrain I’ve put on my brain and body.

So how did I get here?  You know that expression, “Don’t drink and dial?” Well, how about don’t be in the midst of a midlife query and listen to a powerful sermon, then go home and send an e-mail to your local institute of higher learning, which happens to have a pre-eminent school of theology. If I had a dime for every time since then that I have said, either aloud or to myself, “What was I thinking?” I could pay for tuition.

I cannot believe it’s only been three months since I started my masters in divinity program at the University of Toronto's Emmanuel College. I feel like I’ve aged in president years.  My skin is pasty, the bags under my eyes would be charged to get on an airplane and you could play Jingle Bells on my ribcage. I am surrounded by a stack of books that have no business being in my house, let alone in my hand.

Going back to school at 51 may not be healthy in the short run, but I keep telling myself, and my friends keep telling me, that in the long run it’s a good thing.

It’s not only the brainy stuff one has to contend with; being part of a group really threw me at first. It’s not like when I went to university for my degree in psychology and sociology several decades ago. Then, as an undergrad who commuted, I was in lecture halls with 200 other students. There was no group work or breakout sessions. It would have been unruly at best, and the anonymity suited me nicely, thank you very much.

As I tell my therapist, I prefer to be “socially self-sufficient,” so the very idea of collaborating and working in groups made me clammy. Turns out that I like being a member of a team and I like my teammates. I know that most of these people will be in my life for the rest of my life.  That we will keep track of each other and support each other, and that makes me feel all warm inside.

If I had any advice for someone in my position, and by that I don’t mean the fetal position, but someone who, like me, has the time, resources and support they need to undertake the rigours of grad school, it would be to go for it. I want to say don’t. I want to say resist the urge to send that query letter to the registrar, and reconsider the challenge of attending graduate school at a time in your life when getting out of the car can put your back out. But no.

I have never been so intellectually, emotionally and physically challenged in my life, and for an old broad like me, that’s pretty exciting.  If I can keep this up, I ought to be starting my career in ministry around the time most of my contemporaries are winding their careers down. I’m good with that. 

As an artist, I’ve been able to make my own schedule for years now, which to my friends looks a lot like dressing poorly and walking the dog often. I think they are rather enjoying watching me suffer now, in that loving way women have with each other. Come on, you know what I mean. 

I love that I know so much more now than I did on Sept. 13. I love that I have learned new and arcane words and know how to use them in a sentence. I have absorbed enough Hebrew, Greek and Latin to be considered ever so slightly pretentious, dare I say, pedantic?

Anyone else out there know what a pericope is?

I love that daily I am with fellow students who are diverse in demographic, wicked smart and equally pale and pasty.  Every lecture I am lucky enough to attend, I walk out thinking, A: I’m among giants and B: I have no idea what she just said over the past three hours.

I am learning stuff, making friends and stretching way beyond my safe boundaries on all levels.  Maybe today, just maybe, I’ll get dressed.



Sandra A. Morris lives in Toronto.

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