“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”
For many children around the world, getting to class is extremely difficult. Some schools require a three-mile walk each way. For disabled or malnourished kids, the challenges are overwhelming but violent environments or hazardous obstacles add to the ordeal even for healthy children.
My dad often spoke of walking to his high school, located on a high hill that seemed a long way from his neighborhood. As a child, I thought it was a super-human effort. Recently, I Googled the distance and was amazed to learn the school was only about two miles from his home. It was not a long, perilous journey comparable to those of children in some remote areas of Asia and Africa but it was an effort I admired.
Still, it had never occurred to me to walk to my own high school, a distance of one and three-quarter miles. I rode the city bus, along with the majority of my classmates. It wasn’t that I disliked walking; for the previous eight years I’d made a daily, quarter-mile, uphill, morning trek to elementary school, walked home for lunch, hiked back for the afternoon session and then home again at the end of the day. Everyone in the neighborhood did it so it was no big deal. In fact, it was kind of fun.
In college, I couldn’t exactly walk from home to school because there was a large body of water to cross. An extended walk on one of the land portions of the trip before classes would have required waking before dawn. My only walking was to the city bus from home then from the bus to the ferry, the ferry to the subway and the subway station to school. I did get in about a half-mile walk after classes however, on the way to my after-school job. I loved that walk of about twelve or thirteen city blocks. I still love walking in cities, enjoying the pulse of activity, the people watching, the window-shopping and the multi-culture absorption.
Graduate school was an hour-plus drive from home by car that gave me time to mentally transition from mom to student. I left for evening classes when my husband came home from work and took over the feeding, bathing, story reading and tucking in of our two young children.
When my children were ages three and four, I alternated with other mothers driving our kids and their friends to preschool. When they started kindergarten, the school bus picked them up at the end of our drive and my responsibilities were getting them out there on time and keeping the dog from running after the bus.
Their early elementary years were spent in Italy and that meant a new school commute for the kids. My husband drove them down our hill to the main road each morning and waited until they were picked up and transported to school by a warm-hearted, mini-bus driver named Ciro. After school, they were dropped off at the bottom of the hill. At first, they walked up the steep incline but a chained, snarling guard dog owned by a neighbor farmer frightened them. I didn’t like walking past the dog either so I drove down every afternoon, picked them up and brought them to our house above the farm.
I drove to my Italian language lessons in a tiny Fiat Seicento, a car I fondly remember for its ability to fit into the tiniest of parking spaces, to navigate the narrowest of streets, and for the quirky sign on the dashboard that made me smile. It was an old-fashioned embossed label that said, “Tullio e Luisa uniti per sempre.” It was an odd place for a declaration that two people were united forever. On my drives to school, I often pondered whether they chose to record their marriage that way or if it was it a coy way of commemorating back seat relations.
When we moved to Germany, I drove south on the Autobahn toward the Alps for my day teaching job but I rode a bike through city streets for my job teaching English in the evenings. When I attended German language classes, I walked from my city apartment to the train station, traveled by U-bahn using a monthly pass, and then walked from another station to class. When I completed enough classes to qualify for a certificate exam, my walk to the testing site took me to a place famous in the history of student resistance against the Nazis—Geschwister Scholl Platz, where the White Rose group is commemorated for their courage and mourned for their loss by executions.
Back in the States, I drove in heavy commuter traffic, either early mornings to the school where I taught or early evenings to another graduate program. That university was about a fifty-minute drive from work, plus a stop for a gobbled quick meal. My kids were then adults so the drive time was a mental transition from teacher to student.
Though my conveyances varied, I never had to go to extremes like some to get my education. I didn’t have to hike across Himalayan glaciers, climb unsecured Chinese ladders up a cliff, cross a damaged suspension bridge or walk a tightrope over a swollen Indonesian river. I didn’t have to swing attached to a steel cable 1,300 feet high over a Colombian river, ride in an overcrowded Indian horse cart, hitch a ride on a Myanmar bull or try to stay dry on an inflated tire crossing a Philippine river either. Millions across the world exhibit a persistence getting to school that’s remarkable.
My obstacles were minor in comparison, requiring shorter amounts of time and distance and aided by conveniences. Would I have had the motivation if the challenges were greater? I’m thankful I didn’t have to find out.
How about you? Did you or someone you know have a tough or unusual way of getting to school?