It’s a long flight to Germany from the U.S. and inevitably passengers travel on the red-eye to arrive in Europe at daybreak. The vast majority of wise passengers settle in for a restful slumber to deplane as refreshed as possible. Ideally, those sitting in first class are quite well rested, but when sitting in the center of the five seats across the middle of the plane, sleep is a relative term. For the fortunate, there is Ambien; for the less fortunate, there is algebra.
I resumed my college studies after a far longer hiatus than anticipated. Motivated by the desire to change my circumstances and escape the struggles of dying dysfunction, college math became the first step towards an alternate life path. My first college held little appeal, although a degree required no courses in the mathematics department. Now my life held many variables, including an unexpected trip stateside, and if I had to study a few of them in textbook form to get to a better life, I would suck up the long flight and the pages of Xs and Ys to land somewhere better, and definitely with a better seat assignment.
More than a decade later, I again find myself completing homework in flight. Thankful for the aisle seat, I must remind myself to tolerate the noise as the adjacent, sideways galley challenges my concentration. And the oblivious passenger ahead of me fully reclines the seat against my laptop as I busily try to finish my research paper. Another unexpected business trip lands during the last week of the semester, and the final term paper, scribed in between west-coast appointments, needs only complete, specifically formatted reference pages to meet the submission deadline when I return to the east coast.
As I struggle to type in the most awkwardly repetitive-stress-injury posture, I keep my focus on my deadline, not just for the paper, but for my degree. It has taken, almost to the day, fifteen years of sporadic study, mixed with child-rearing, single-parenting, bi-coastal juggling, and career-hopping to reach the end of the academic road. But with the bibliography complete, wheels touch down on the aspiration to raise my boys, complete my degree, and step into a better life. Only now do I realize that the road I have been following for all these semesters didn’t lead me to the escape I needed, it became the change of scenario I had been pursuing. And all without the benefit of a window seat.