April 11th, 2011
Academic conferences are, among other things, a kind of reunion. My career has traversed a number of communities. Every place I have been, I have made friends and built relationships. We often keep distant tabs on each other, mainly through our work.
In between paper sessions and talks, the life of the conference takes place over meals, coffee, and receptions. That’s when you get to see your old friends and catch up. It was interesting to re-enter that world this past weekend after having gone through a great personal challenge.
I am not going to write about the few people who seemed to be avoiding me. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they did not recognize me with my corkscrew curls, which only got screwier in the New Orleans humidity.
I was pleased with the grace that a number of my friends and colleagues showed me. I thought I’d catalog them here since I am often told by witnesses to the life tragedy of cancer, “I’m not sure what I should say.”
A grad school friend
We were walking together, and she stopped and turned to me. “Can I just say how sorry I am for everything you’ve been through? When I got your news, it hit me so hard. There are so many ways our lives are similar, and you are the first of my contemporaries to deal with this. I am so glad you are doing better.”
A former professor I knew mostly at a distance.
“I want you to know that I am so proud of you. I love your blog and have sent a number of friends there. What your doing is great.”
A former mentor
Meaningfully: “I am so glad to see you here.”
Friends I hardly ever see but I can really talk to
“We can talk about this if you want, but we don’t have to.”
(And they meant it 100%.)
Friends who faced their own challenges the past two years
“I am so sorry I couldn’t reach out. I was so swallowed up in my own life. But I thought about you all the time. And I’m so glad to see you.”
It’s normal to have long gaps between seeing colleagues. At one reception, someone I hadn’t seen in over five years came up to me, brightly saying, “Wow! Lani! I love your hair!” I just smiled and said thank you.
Then he looked at me intently and said, “So how’s it going? How have you been?”
I had to say that the true answer makes terrible cocktail party conversation, and then outlined briefly the chronology of events.
I felt like the wet blanket at the party.
Overall, it felt like another important transition back into my old life. I am glad to report that I was received with a warm welcome.
This entry was posted on Monday, April 11th, 2011 at 8:21 am and is filed under Survivorship. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.