This morning I had to do the Financial Aid run. Because I am a returning student, after a 20-22 year absence, I have run into problems with my Standards of Academic Progress report for the last two years. I was not, let's say, a dedicated student when I was in my late teens and twenties. Now, however, I have hit my stride, know what I want to do and I really enjoy learning new things. And, it truly does make a difference when it's your own money you're wasting by not showing up to class. These days, I have to be dead or on fire to miss class (okay, or contagious with strep or in the hospital...but you understand.)
Since the Community College I attend is designed to be a haven for former underachievers who have finally figured out what they want to be when they grow up, my situation is not unique. This means there are unbelievable lines for the Financial Aid office right after the SAP reports come out. The lines are literally up the staircase, through the breezeway and into the next building. The wait is usually about an hour. So, to pass the time, we all commiserate about how unfair it is that we all have to play this game with the Financial Aid office each year while we wait in line.
I am one quarter away from being finished and losing my financial aid would put me out of the running for my degree this year all together, so I was completely stressed out. Would I be able to graduate? I've worked so hard and done so well. I had called at the end of last week to check on my status and make sure that everything was in order. I didn't want to be caught by surprise this year, like I was last year. Yet, despite assurances from the Financial Aid department on Friday, on Sunday afternoon the e-mail appeared in my box, letting me know I no longer qualified for financial aid. I had taken too many classes. Between my prerequisites for Math (since I'd forgotten everything I ever learned in high school about Math) and specialty courses for my former major (Music Ed), I'd taken more than 150% of the credit hours I needed to graduate. With just two classes to go, it seemed so unfair.
Others around me were expressing similar sentiments. One woman had been taking prerequisite classes for her new program, Nursing, for two years. Added to the technical degree she had earned in her twenties, she also had too many credits. Now, on the very brink of beginning her program, they'd stopped her in her tracks. The two girls in front of me were talking about how many times they'd changed majors and how they didn't understand how the financial aid was disbursed. For want of $1,500 they wouldn't be able to attend classes beginning next week. They would lose everything they worked for. I sympathized with them. Tensions were running high and a lot of very negative things were being said about how, "I'll show them" and "Someone's gonna explain this."
Feeling the worry begin to take over, I decided that I'd been given this time for a reason. Remembering Mother Teresa's practice of viewing roadblocks as blessings and not curses, I began to pray for my situation. I said, "Lord, if this is where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing, then I know you will take care of everything. Please help me not to worry and fret."
One man, standing right next to me stayed mostly quiet and just listened to us complain about how unfair it was that our free money (though mine are loans I will have to repay them) was in jeopardy. Finally, as we got within sight of the window where the advisors were handling the cranky and confused students, he turned to me and said, "I just want to know if I even qualify for aid."
I looked at him in surprise. He appeared to be of Arabic descent, but I thought nothing of it. People from all over the world come to Columbus State to start their educations in the US. "Why wouldn't you?" I asked.
"Well, I am not yet a citizen, you see. I will be by the end of the year, but not yet. I have an engineering degree, but it's from Russia. They don't recognize it here in the United States, so I have to start all over again." He laughed a little bitterly, "Imagine that: At 43, an old man with gray hair! I have to start all over again."
I laughed, because I had chosen to start all over again at 42. I told him I understood how frustrating that must be.
He continued, "Two years ago, I lost everything. My home was bombed and we lost everything. My friend came to tell me that they were going to bomb my house and we were able to flee in the night." He kissed his fingers, touched them to his forehead and gestured to heaven. I knew that meant "Thanks be to Allah". He continued, "But my family all escaped. We lost no one, but my friend who came to tell me. They killed him and his little baby." I began to tear up. My problems seemed so small. So insignificant and so stupid and petty. How would I have handled a situation like this? I certainly wouldn't pull up stakes, emigrate to a foreign country and begin to learn my trade all over again. Such bravery. I told him I thought so and he smiled.
"These girls in front of me," he gestured toward the girls hoping to clear up their $1,500 problem, "They have no idea of loss." I nodded. It was so true. Not only that, but *I* had no idea of loss. This man had lost it all. A comfortable job, his home, and his homeland.
Eventually, I found out that he was from Baghdad and his entire extended family had lived in the same huge house. His brothers and their wives and children, his sisters and his parents. Now, only his oldest brother remained in what was left of the family home to keep people from squatting in it or looting from it. Another brother had moved to Germany and he had come here, leaving his wife behind. They had moved the rest of his family to a safer place within Iraq.
"In a month, my wife will join me, " he confided, "I will be glad when she gets here."
"I am sure," I smiled, "I wish you all the best. Welcome." He smiled back at me.
I knew this man was an answer to my prayer. God wanted me to know that my problems were very small and manageable. And that, even in the face of terrible odds, people got up and kept going all the time. I have no reason to give up. Ever.
As I was waiting to be next in line, my new acquaintance came back from his consultation with a smile on his face. I assume that means it went well, though I did not ask. It seemed like that might be prying and not something that a stranger should be asking. I smiled back as he passed.
Where ever you are and where ever you're going, friend, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.