I started this journal by admitting that I’d woven feathers into my hair. At the time, it was a celebration of taking chances and investing in the next step toward personal and professional development.
Ultimately, I performed reasonably well on the language portion, but although I tried to catch up on math concepts that I hadn’t used for about 30 years, only 14% of all Americans who took the GRE did worse than me. (Did you follow that sentence, and its bit of math … tricky, huh?) Luckily, I’m not pursuing a degree that relies heavily on numbers, phew!
Anyway, the GRE wasn’t the most important part of my application. Essays and recommendations were probably more important. But taking a standardized test for the first time was a big deal (to me). Sweat. Performance anxiety. Sleepless nights. Hours of study. It meant I was serious about this whole process. And I was being measured against a lot of other people who also have graduate school dreams and vocational aspirations … you get the idea.
So I’ve had these feathers since December. And for those who are curious, but haven’t had the chance to ask, you can shampoo feathers. You can brush and style them, if you want. When you get your hair cut, the feathers come out, and after the cut, they’re knotted back into place. They’re attached by a knot, but they basically stay in for a lo-o-o-o-o-o-nnnngggg time.
See, I had about 12 or so feathers when I started out. All kinds of colors. Over the course of several months (seven, but who’s counting?), they fell out a little at a time.
The last one drifted to the ground, and I didn’t even see it happen. I washed my hair this morning, and didn’t find any more plumes. Sigh. The feathers are gone. This phase is over, it seems.
The feathers were … what, a symbolic act? An external recognition of an exciting accomplishment (surviving hours in a cubicle answering questions on a computer, knowing I was bombing on the math, because my 16-digit answers didn’t fit into the 2-digit blank answer box)? A sheer giddy indulgence?
All of the above.
Their slow shedding has been, in a way, a metaphorical measurement of the many steps that have passed since I sat down to take the GRE. 43 drafts of an essay later, I completed the entire application process. Filed it online. Waited until mid-March for acceptance. Waited longer, through rounds of debate about how we’d pay for graduate school and Sarah’s college at the same time, to decide if I’d accept a spot in the 3-year, full-time MDIV program at Harvard’s Divinity School. Stayed below the radar screen a lot of the time, because this summer and this autumn are so focused on Sarah’s transition to Northeastern to study nursing, that I often forget that I have my own forms to complete, loans to secure, classes to choose and many other administrative steps to finish, also.
The final feather disappeared on the same day that I opened my new student email account, submitted my bio and picture, and looked at the list of classes available for registration. I’m still bad at math, by the way. But I can count to zero (no feathers).
Now my head is a blank canvas again; it awaits a new cut, and perhaps more decoration. Maybe I’ll re-plume. Maybe not.
Meanwhile, the first burst of feathers fulfilled its role … it served as a talisman, while I dared to dive into the unknown depths of a new adventure.
How do we outwardly mark milestones? With jewelry like class rings or engagement diamonds, perhaps. With a tattoo, permanent or temporary. A piercing. A badge or pin. A uniform or new type of clothing. Head gear. A name tag. Some grooming of hair, nails or skin, such as a haircut, mani/pedi, facial or other makeover. A change in external style.
Other landmarks are never visible. We often don’t wear insignia to show where we have been, what we have endured and overcome, where we are going next.
Ultimately, you can’t look at a person and read their entire story based only on an outward appearance. But sometimes, it’s fun to provide a clue about what’s going on inside.
Feathers, for instance.