As For The Rest Of Us

June 4, 2014

After reading each edition of SAM, I always am wowed by the accomplishments of my fellow alumni, by all the doctors, executives and department chairs in our midst. But lest this sound like fodder for those who cry “sour grapes,” let me say, I honor all of you who have made such deep and tireless contributions to our needy world. 

I especially congratulate my dear classmate Marsha Moses ’75, now a noted Harvard researcher, with whom I shared many an evening in Boland Hall, chatting, laughing and sharing dreams. As our dorm mates would attest, nothing lifted flagging spirits more than a visit with Marsha. She kept us giggling through our most grueling undergraduate challenges. Now her colleagues benefit from the wit and spark that undoubtedly augment her illustrious career. 

But what about the rest of us? The ones who graduated with an excellent education, went on to graduate school, but later found ourselves running breathlessly alongside the train, never quite able to jump on? Those of us who never made it in the hallowed halls or the corporate boardrooms—who, because of glass ceilings, budget cuts, missed opportunities, or that immutable barrier known as our own free will, got filtered out?

The reality is few Stonehill grads will be called to Who’s Who or the syndicated talk shows. Most will work in respectable jobs, marry and raise children, and some of us won’t even do that. Much of the human race will never hear of us. For most, an obituary will be the most dazzling thing about us ever to grace the pages of SAM. Nonetheless, life ensnares us in its web, takes us under its wing, pokes us between the shoulder blades and smacks us in the head with that grand, affirming message I first heard from a Buddhist nun: It doesn’t matter! Life is good and meaningful as it is.

Despite my academic success at Stonehill and two graduate degrees in wildlife biology and counseling, I realized in 1991 at the age of 38 that I was treading water. I still didn’t have a real career. I knew I couldn’t grow old with my husband of 15 years, my Stonehill sweetheart L. Michael Gouveia ’75. I’d never have children and be part of a mainstream, nuclear family.

Instead, I had to take a plunge. I had to dive headlong into a different life, and flail away in all its wonder and bigness.

So I moved to Wyoming and started a new life. Now, 30 years after my Stonehill graduation, most of the accoutrements associated with success continue to escape me. On the other hand, from imploding despair through soaring joy, my offbeat life has enriched me beyond my wildest dreams.

Admittedly, I’ve never made a lot of money. On the other hand, my truncated attempts at careers have graced me with a different kind of wealth. As a wildlife biologist, I’ve had heart-stopping encounters with grizzly bears and once dove headfirst into a willow thicket to escape a charging moose. I’ve waded through backcountry streams banding rare harlequin ducks and hiked miles carrying a telemetry antenna searching for red-tailed hawks. As a fire lookout in an 80-foot tower, I’ve studied the undersides of a vulture’s wings in flight. As a counselor, I’ve led troubled teenagers over forest trails and listened to shocking stories from domestic violence victims. As an editor, I’ve worked with international students to craft their master’s theses into readable English so they could graduate. 

I haven’t remarried. But I have been heartrendingly in love and swept away by romance. I have danced magical waltzes at a formal ball and, one Valentine’s Day, I entered my home to find red roses in every room.

For years after my divorce, I didn’t own a house. But I’ve lived in a log cabin so remote I had to ski out to my car and haul in groceries on a sled roped to my waist. I’ve snarled at growling pine martens in the woodpile and chased bears off the porch. From my doorway on dreamy, star-strewn nights I’ve counted meteors while elk bugled nearby.

I don’t have children, a decision that, to some, makes me seem limited and selfish. But I have nurtured my friends through hard times. I have watched, with the tearful joy of a new grandmother, baby trumpeter swans take their first splashing dips from the nest into the water. From a feed truck in the National Elk Refuge, I saw a baby bison born in mid-winter and felt a disabling parental fear that it might not survive the storms ahead. I have held the head of a sedated black bear in my arms and whispered blessings into her ear. And every Christmas my home is filled with all the love, laughter, food, and singing that any biological family could ever hope for.

I have learned that life’s biggest disappointments are often followed by the most delicious surprises. And that the greatest tragedies usually bring with them the most poignant opportunities to show how capable we are of loving. But my most profound discovery is this: the career ladder, suburban house, husband and kids are simply not available to everyone. But a good and meaningful life is within anyone’s grasp.

All you need is a heart and a spirit open and willing to make high, bracing dives into murky water. As I told my sobbing friend Esther as she faced imminent death from liver cancer, “This is all the work you have to do right now.”

I am deeply grateful to our eminent Stonehill alumni whose stories enthrall me in every issue of SAM, courageous people who have done truly great things in the world.

As for the rest of us, may we all lead happy, compassionate lives and bring a sweet richness to our circles of friends and family. As we paddle opposite, across, or around the mainstream, may we still feel full and whole and have wondrous diversions.

Mary Elizabeth Baptiste hasn’t done anything exceptional, remarkable or noteworthy in quite some time. Never climbing above the first rung of the ladder, she instead has scurried around on a horizontal career web for the past 30 years. She has the best friends in the world, including an exceptional guy, and has mothered a multitude of pets. Baptiste lives in Laramie, Wyoming with her cat, Phoebe.

To learn about Baptiste's new memoir about her journey to become a wildlife Biologist, visit here.