by Lorraine Marden
The snow had started falling around dusk in the small college town where I had just finished my first semester. As I walked through deserted streets, streetlights glowed with a soft halo. All was peaceful, and it was a quiet evening, but I was alone and feeling utterly desperate. Tonight was the first night of the winter break and most students had already left town for their vacations. I was scheduled to leave on a bus in the morning, having waited for the last possible hour before heading to my childhood home for the first time since I left home in August. I dreaded having to return there – facing my alcoholic father and all of the painful memories that I thought going to college would relieve me of; these were further compounded by another fear, for I was quite sure that I was flunking out after my first semester. A combination of hard partying and inattention to my studies had resulted in many unfinished assignments and numerous absences from class, yet more evidence of my inability to prove myself worthy of any goodness in this life.
I had been hounded for years by feelings of inadequacy; nevertheless I had continued laboring to raise myself above the waterline of mediocrity and failure. Even so, on that night, I let myself down once again. Looking back now, with perspective, I wished I possessed the insight to celebrate my perseverance, to bolster my efforts rather than condemning myself for what I viewed were my failures, Attending college was a miracle. Growing up impoverished made the dream of escaping my circumstances through a college education seem quite far-fetched.
But now, here I was, returning to a home that I hated with a limited view – fearing that mocking gaze from my father, who had admonished me with “Who do you think you are?” when I announced that I wished to go to college.
And so I trudged with leaden footsteps through the snow-filled streets, my tracks fading quickly in the snowfall. Presently, I came upon a tiny chapel, which I had noticed before on the main street but had never given much thought to. On that night, a faint light shined near its door, a surprising contrast to the rest of the darkened and abandoned town. Without a thought, I made my way up the buried pathway to the small wooden door. Surprisingly, the knob turned when I tried it. Unsure but curious, I continued through the doorway into the small sanctuary which was alight by a few candles. I sat on a wooden pew just inside the door. I felt embraced by the simple quiet within the small sanctuary. Immediately, a heaving sob erupted from deep inside my body and I just broke down and wept. All of my fear and disappointment washed over me. For quite some time, I sobbed as if trying to exorcise years of failures and misgivings. Eventually, there were no more tears. I sat there exhausted but peaceful, feeling the comfort of resolve. Courage to face an uncertain future began building. Inside, my heart flooded with the peace that had earlier hovered outside of myself.
I stood and looked around the deserted chapel. Deep gratitude that the door had been unlocked replaced my lack of will to live. One hand reached for my other hand, each holding the other with the strength and comfort of a trusted friend. I smiled slightly when I realized the protection that I now felt surrounding my heart.
Closing the door as I exited, I started back down the little path following the tracks I had made earlier, once again, just a faint outline in the snow.
I knew on that night that something very special and enduring had happened. The peace and strength that I had encountered in that small church would remain. While I never became religious, I always seemed to find small little chapels, wherever I traveled, that offered similar solace in trying times. While I didn’t fail out of the college, it was a struggle of many ups and downs throughout the next several years before I finally graduated. In later life, I eventually even earned a master’s degree, although many years of stumbling and doubting remained in front of me. However on that snowy evening, I took with me, a feeling that I wasn’t alone. Time and again, I renewed the courage I needed to continue the course despite how futile or dismal the path looked. That night, I found a pathway to a higher purpose and a greater strength that I ever knew was possible or could ever be contained by the likes of me. For the first time in my young life, I felt as though I was truly playing on my own team.
For websites which address the issue of failure in college or transition challenges from high school to college: