26 August 2009

My First Day Back

Today was my first day back at the college. I don't teach until Monday; today my department had staff development meetings. Plus, a committee on which I serve had its first meeting today. So, my first day at work turned out to be a long one.

I must admit to having felt some anxiety about returning. Would the ones who knew that I was undergoing surgery see me differently? Would I see them differently? And how would I answer "What did you do with your summer?" if it were asked by someone who didn't know I had the surgery?

Intellectually, I knew that the answers to my first two questions would be "no." Still, I worried. About the third: Well, I encountered it only once. And that was at the end of the day, so I was ready.

Even though I knew that the atmosphere would be informal , I wanted my "first" day at school to be flawless. I fretted over wearing something tasteful, and on the train ride to the college, I fretted even more that I'd be late.

Well, lots of people told me that I looked really good. Two female profs said my outfit was "perfect" for me: a long skirt in an Indian floral print in shades of light purple and a grayish-white hue, with a dressy tank top and cardigan in a purple that matched the shade in the print. Purple is my favorite color, and the cuts of the skirt and tops flattered my shape (no easy thing to do!), so I felt confident. And I arrived with time to spare.

Meanwhile, half of the male profs were wearing shorts and sandals. And the meeting started late because we were locked out of the room in which we were supposed to hold the meeting.

The first person I met was Janisse, who's about a decade older than I am and whose facial lines lend depth to her soft good looks. Her blue Midwestern eyes reflected concern and hopefulness as she embraced me. "How are you? I've been thinking about you."

"Thank you. I'm feeling good."

"You don't look like you've just had major surgery."

"Well, thank you. I haven't been feeling pain, just tired."

"Well, that's to be expected. Get the rest you need. Promise."


Others followed: Nathan, a poet/professor who looks the part and is all the more lovable for it; Ruth, a Jamaican woman who returned to college in the middle of her life and started to teach last year; Glenn, an African-American woman who returned even later in life and La Forrest, who left a career as a singer so she could write and teach. They have all lived through their share of difficulties and have no time to waste with superficiality. So their greetings, shows of concern and good wishes are genuine.

As Ruth said, "We're happy for you because we know what kind of a person you are and you deserve to be happy."

And, during the workshop, it seemed that ideas were coming to me from all directions, and I simply couldn't contain myself. Later, two of the profs in it commended me for my contributions. "You were just lit up today," one of them said.

"Yes. You were positively radiant," said the other.

Radiant: I love hearing that. And, yes, I was starting to feel that way: as if a sun were shining from within me that I couldn't obscure even if I wanted to.

So...after wondering whether I'd changed beyond recognition or not at all, I realize that I was, and am, simply who I am. And, it seemed, that was more than enough today.