Of College, Hope, and Bald Eagles
RECAP SO FAR: Yesterday's post was an introduction to when my life took a sharp turn in my late twenties, leading me into the journey that brought me to this point in my life of wanting to support other women through life coaching. I shared the time of my life that included pregnancy, infidelity and the stillbirth of my son. I left off with the sudden decision to return to college, still in my maternity clothes, with no money to my name. A complete act of radical trust and following my intuition…
“You know, if you go back to school this semester, you could apply for our next abroad to the Himalayas.” My friend, Gary, who had led several abroads as a professor for my alma mater in southern Illinois explained that they were in the preparation stages of a student abroad to a part of the world he knew I’d always wanted to travel.
He and his wife, Gwen, who’d been mentors over the years, were responding to my hair-brained idea of going back to college. They were visiting the ranch, where I lived, for our annual Christmas Family Camp. I mentioned that this idea had taken over my mind. Instead of trying to talk me out of coming in a few months for Spring quarter, Gary was trying to talk me into returning in only three weeks for the Winter quarter.
“This way you can apply and secure a place on the Fall quarter Himalayan Kingdoms Abroad,” he encouraged. “But if you don’t return until Spring quarter, you will miss that opportunity. And we won’t be going again for a few years.”
But I was certain that returning to college within three weeks was impossible for many reasons. I didn’t have a penny to my name. It would be too late to get sufficient financial aid (from what I recalled from years before when I had been a student at this Midwestern college). I would have to leave my cozy cabin in the mountains, in the midst of working through grief and healing, leaving my unstable marriage still in the early stages of recovery from infidelity, and my home community of supportive friends. All this uprooting to thrust myself into the midst of a bunch of carefree teens and twenty-somethings.
This wasn’t a college that I could lose myself as a number in the crowd, but a place where most everyone knew each other, and class size varied from between 3-20 students. In other words, it would be clear that “one of these was not like the others.”
Somehow, none of this concern could extinguish the rapidly growing flame in my heart.
“I so wish I could help you,” the Director of Admissions replied when I called to request to start the application process. “But we all go on Winter Break in four hours.”
A sense of relief came over me and I thought, Now I can let this go.”
But this desire just wouldn’t leave me alone.
“What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?” the Director of Admissions asked me when I walked into her office on the first day of Winter quarter. I’d gone through the process of sending in all of my application and a deposit (thanks to an extremely generous gift check that arrived in the mail with heartfelt condolences). I’d faxed in all the paperwork based on what I could find online, had left multiple voicemails on the Director of Admissions and Assistant Director’s voicemails explaining that this urging just hadn’t stopped so I was taking every step I could until I ran into a wall of NO that I couldn’t climb over.
“With all due respect, M’am, you did not say ‘No’,” I reminded her in as calm a voice I could muster. “You said you wished you could help. Well now you can, and here I am.”
She looked at me incredulously. “But,” I continued, “you just say the word ‘No’ and I will turn and go home to my cozy cabin in the beautiful Rockies and spend my time healing and being in my safe, happy place.”
She laughed a little, but her look of resistance remained pretty harsh.
“Well, you’ll have to go to eight offices,” she continued, “and get individual approval for all the extra work you’ll be making each department do for you.”
“It took eight hours but 7 out of the 8 offices I went to were run by someone I knew from when I’d been at this college before. I’d had to drop out of school but my husband and I couldn’t even afford to leave, so I’d taken a service job in the Facilities Department and each of these department heads had a story of how I had helped them. They rallied to help me get back into school. I was in classes the next morning.
There are so many pieces I could share from this chapter of my life and how each step I would take, my “angels” kept showing up. People, financial supply, resources, opportunities continued to appear right when I needed them. Not a moment before and not a moment too late.
So I continued to trust.
I moved in with a dear friend who had a studio apartment right off campus. Her husband was gone on an international abroad as a professor and she let me invade her space, refusing to charge me a dime. We shared close quarters for 10 weeks and by the end had both applied and been accepted onto the Himalayan Kingdoms Abroad.
Much of my energy and time went to praying my way through waves of grief that would suddenly engulf me. “Learning to Surf” would be a great title for this time in my experience. It was an extremely cold winter but being in such close quarters – and feeling concerned I would distract my precious roomie – I spent hours walking the large wooded campus. The hardwood forest became a refuge and I learned a lot from simply watching the wildlife that would come and go along my walks.
The birds played an extra special role during this time, especially bald eagles. There is an important piece of this story that I failed to share in the last blog post: The moment down by the river that I’d said out loud, “I would go back and finish college” – in that exact moment, a bald eagle flew in and hovered above where we were lying on the blanket. It hovered for several moments sending chills down my body and an intense feeling that what I’d just uttered was truth.
That whole quarter, whenever my self-doubt was strongest, or I reached a point I felt I couldn’t possibly know life beyond consuming grief, I’d have a powerful bird experience. Each one felt like a gift of a promise of hope, and I would pick myself up and keep moving forward.
One such experience happened when I went to the campus chapel for a weekly faith service. Feeling lost and struggling for peace, I tucked myself in a back-corner pew where I could see the mighty Mississippi flowing passed. I spent the entire service in utter tears and pain. I reached out in prayer in my heart of hearts and the most beautiful thing happened.
We were in the midst of the third straight week of dreary gray skies, devoid of sunshine. In this moment of yearning, a ray of brilliant sunlight burst through the clouds bathing me with its warmth and a bald eagle swooped through the funnel of light, in all its majesty, following the river. I was awestruck and felt like a switch flipped inside me. Then the clouds converged, and the ray of light gave way to the gray once more.
Now, I know this sounds both far-fetched and coincidental. But intense experiences in nature like this happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I reached this point of desperation or deep depression. Each time, I was snapped out of the fog of grief by a winged symbol of hope and perseverance.
This buoying carried me through challenge after challenge both Winter and Spring semesters as well as through the process of returning home to Colorado for the summer. By this point, my husband and I had separated, and he’d moved back to Australia to pursue a relationship with the woman he’d had an affair with. So, I felt free to experience being home in a new way. But this newness also brought intense pain as I fell into the trap of comparison, loneliness and a a nagging feeling of being not good enough or not “chosen.”
Nonetheless, my heart was grateful to be back in the mountains I so dearly loved.
<Thank you for reading and please stay tuned for PART III in which I will share my adventures of coming closer to being at home in myself as I spent a decade traveling and searching for inner peace and healing.>
Heather Barron is the Founder of Luminous Life, and Luminous Ceremonies. She is an Integral Life Coach, Marriage Celebrant and Wedding Officiant whose sole goal is to thread more light and spread more joy in the world. She does this through life coaching, designing and officiating weddings and ceremonies of all kinds, writing fiction and non-fiction, hiking in her beloved Colorado Rocky Mountains with her precious pup, by listening deeply to others, and by smiling with love and kindness everywhere she goes. Learn more and become a fan by clicking on the social media icons below! Thanks for reading!