This weekend was supposed to be my tropical Puerto Rican vacation, my reward for enduring February, my chance to see my parents for the first time since September... and it was foiled by a snowstorm. Standing there in JFK's Terminal 2, all I could think was, "(wo)man plans, God laughs." We were stranded in New York City until Saturday afternoon, which was not the worst fate, but our new itinerary created logistical problems. For starters, we were wearing short sleeved shirts under our light coats and it was 27 degrees outside. I spent Friday wearing a sundress over my jeans, adding an extra layer to my (already bizarre) ensemble. We also had no place to stay, no plans, and, frankly, no extra money in our budget.
Somehow, despite all this disappointment and uncertainty, I remained incredibly calm. We booked a hotel room using Hotel Tonight (a great app that I highly recommend), got ourselves on the AirTrain, the E train, the D train, the 1 train, and checked ourselves into the hip Nylo on the Upper West Side. I began texting friends and family, trying to arrange a dinner for Friday night. I made a plan for the day, including a visit the archive, lunch at Lombardi's, and a walk to the Lower East Side to load up on sweets at Economy Candy. Even with the looming question of whether we would actually get back to Pittsburgh on Saturday, I tried to make the best of our little adventure. We had a great time, saw some of our siblings and siblings-in-loves, and eventually made it back to this Appalachian icebox with a bag of candy and two dozen bagels.
I confess that I did tear up once, when we got to the hotel that first night and it hit me that I wasn't going to wake up in San Juan the next morning. Yet I never broke down sobbing. I did not shake my fist at the sky and protest the injustice of it all. Even more shockingly, I did not angst over our plans or lack thereof. I embraced the variables and the messiness and all of the potential logistical failures.
Even a year ago, it was unthinkable that I could hold it together in such a situation. When I called to tell my family that we would not be joining them in Puerto Rico, father praised my "mature" response. Although I was flattered by his compliment, I think it's more accurate to say I was "resigned." Graduate school, particularly working on the dissertation, has made me more resilient. The process is inherently uncertain. You tentatively propose a topic and an argument that you suspect will be fruitful, but could lead nowhere. You dig through boxes looking for documents that might have been archived, but that just as easily were thrown away. You apply for grants and fellowships that you may or may not win, that would facilitate or limit your ability to conduct your research. You travel to archives, live out of a bag for weeks at a time, and constantly find yourself at Walgreens buying items like Q-tips and postage stamps that you believed were non-essential. And that's on top of that omnipresent and oppressive question faced by every dissertator: "Will I actually manage to pull this off?"
Apparently I have learned to roll with the punches, to shrug off the unexpected and accept that things aren't always going to break my way. That's a pretty valuable life skill, and further evidence that getting a PhD, while a questionable career decision, is the best life decision I ever made.