Sometimes I forget how much I wanted the job I have now, teaching writing to college students. How when I actually got the job, it seemed like a dream come true for me, almost too good to be real. How did I do it? Hadn’t everyone in my life agreed long ago that I would never amount to anything? Didn’t I believe them?
I’ve always been reckless like that. Just going ahead and following my heart, despite obstacles.
But sometimes, a personality like mine gets so focused on its own desires that it rolls over people and misses opportunity. That’s what happened when I met Ruth. Standing in a group of strangers at my first official college function, I was determined to make my mark, to prove my worth, and ingratiate myself with the right people.
Then Ruth appeared at my side. She was short, shorter than me, even, and I’m only 5’3″. She had tightly permed gray hair and wore a steel colored suit. She was skinny, didn’t wear make up, and her light blue eyes protruded a little from her face. She held out her hand, shook mine.
“Hi, I’m Ruth,” she said with a big smile. I introduced myself, but didn’t smile back. I was too nervous and also wanted to impress people. She was clearly not anyone I needed to impress, since she’d been so eager to meet me. Maybe people here didn’t like her, maybe nobody wanted to talk to her. Maybe she’d latch onto me and hold me back from my brilliant career.
Ruth must have felt my cold shoulder, because she drifted away. Soon, the meeting started, which is when Ruth introduced herself as the dean of the department.
Ruth never seemed to hold my naked ambition or obvious disregard that first day against me. We got along just fine, even though I always wondered if she’d sensed my scorn.
I loved my job, but like all the rest of the adjunct faculty, really really really wanted a full-time tenured position. It’s what I’d wanted since before I was even hired. But those spots were hard to come by, and more often filled by PhDs from big name schools than adjunct faculty.
One day a few years later, Ruth saw me in the hall and casually asked if I’d like to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. She knew I’d taught ESL for a local adult ed program. But that’s what I’d been trying to get away from. My dream was to teach important subjects like literature and creative writing, not ESL. So I said no to Ruth. Again.
A month later, another adjunct faculty member said yes and was given a full-time slot.
What I regret most when I think about Ruth is not the missed opportunity to be a full-time faculty member, although that does figure into it. But more, I regret how I dismissed her upon first meeting because she didn’t fit my idea of what a dean, or even a new friend, should look like.
I learned some hard lessons from my association with Ruth, one of the wise women in my life, who has since died of breast cancer. For example, I learned that ambition really is blind. And that I am not always a nice, sweet person. I also learned that living only to attain the heart’s desire is not the same as living with heart.