Dispatches from Graduate School – Part 42

[Republished by permission of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.]

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here.

I had an incredibly emotional weekend, one marked by extreme highs and lows.  It was one of those weekends that places deadlines and paper anxiety in proper perspective.
I spent Thursday evening in a labor and delivery room with my best friend. We ate oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and told jokes to pass the time and the contractions.  I left the hospital around 8:00 PM convinced by her progress that it would be another 24 hours before the baby arrived.  But alas, on Friday morning, at 5:38 AM, my best friend and her husband gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I participated (distractedly) in an independent study course that morning, discussing Jon Teaford and his opinion of American municipal government, and then sped across town (without a speeding ticket, thankfully) to meet my new best friend. She is more beautiful than I could have imagined and I am honored that one day Liliana Maria will call me Tia Cali.
Meanwhile, a dear friend’s sister was at the hospital for a rather routine brain surgery (that sounds a bit like an oxymoron). The surgery was successful and everyone, doctors included, was pleased with the outcome. My parents spent some time visiting, but I chose to stay home with two books to read and several discussion questions to write. Saturday, however, she took a turn for the worst. I got a text message around 2:00 AM (of which I slept through) and then a phone call from my mom at 8:00 AM. My mom and dad had rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night and had been there since 3:30 AM; my mom sounded exhausted and sad. Amanda had suffered some type of episode and lost all brain activity.
The doctors are still at a complete loss as to what exactly happened. I spent a good part of the day in the Neuro ICU with my friend and his family as they mourned the loss of their sister, daughter, and mother. I could never have prepared for what I would see or feel, and I left emotionally drained.
Less than 36 hours ago I celebrated new life, and today I sat in a room with a grieving family.

I love (and sometimes loathe) the life of a graduate student. But so often I fold in on myself, concerned only with assignments and reviews and proposals. I tend toward the myopic, with myself at the center. This weekend was incredibly joyful and painful at the same time, and the experiences force me to pause and remember I have a responsibility to my friends and family that transcends my schoolwork.

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