This past weekend, after last call at The King’s Arms pub in Oxford, I decided to walk by my old dorm. The brisk evening air brought back memories of the long walk home I had taken many times as a student at the university.
As I approached my destination, I thought back to a similar night in February 2005. That night, I got back to my room and found an email from my mom. It said, “We need to talk.”
I wish I had called that night. Instead, I went to sleep.
As students, there are huge demands on our time when we’re at college. There’s always more reading or studying that can be done. There’s always another activity that we’d like to be doing or another club that we’d like to join. There’s always a group of friends having fun that we’d like to be hanging out with.
Somehow we juggle all of these demands and still manage to eat and get some sleep.
We end up in a bubble — not just a geographic one, but a mental one. We spend our time thinking about the here and now and forget about the lives we have away from Penn and Philadelphia. Staying in touch with those we love while we’re in school requires an effort.
My grandmother had been sick for several months when I received that email at 11:22 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. She was in a nursing home and my mom had just informed me that “She is not responding and has very low blood pressure and oxygen levels.”
I had had a few drinks that night at the pub, but was hardly even buzzed. I was under a lot of stress both personally and from school. I was selfish. I didn’t want to face making the phone call. I went to sleep without responding to the email.
In the morning, as I clicked on a new message in my Gmail, I couldn’t help but break down.
“Kurt: Granny died tonight. I will call you in the morning.”
Why hadn’t I called the night before? I would have gotten the chance to tell her I loved her one last time. I could have told her that I missed her.
I was stuck in my mental bubble. I didn’t fly back from Oxford to Virginia for the memorial service. In fact, even though I have a car and my grandmother is buried less than 25 miles from Penn, I visited her grave for the first time just a month ago. Maybe I was too ashamed that I hadn’t called her that night or that I wasn’t there for my mother as she dealt with my grandmother’s death.
Now, I often think about the one grandparent I have left — my 89-year-old grandmother in Indiana. Every time I call her she asks when I’m coming to visit. And I can always hear the disappointment in her voice when I say, “When I can find a weekend that I have free.”
I think about my mother, living in Tajikistan, surrounded by bodyguards, worried that she may suffer the same fate as her friend Chris Stevens in Benghazi.
I think of my father, currently living in the murder capital of the world, Honduras.
I wonder when I’ll see my parents next and on what continent.
None of us would be at Penn today if there weren’t people in our lives that loved us, helped us and supported us along the way. For most of us, it’s our families — but this family can also include teachers, mentors and religious leaders.
So before you run off to the next frat party, “study” session in a GSR in Huntsman or BYO dinner at Don Memo’s — think about the important people in your life who are elsewhere.
Pick up the phone and let them know that you miss them. Trust me, you don’t want to regret not making the call.
Kurt Mitman is a sixth-year doctoral student from McLean, Va. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @SorryToBeKurt. “Sorry To Be Kurt” appears every other Thursday.
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