College students packing their vehicles to go home for the holidays is an all-too-familiar sight for me.
I’ve worked at Central Michigan University for nearly a dozen years, and with my office positioned right across the street from several on-campus residence halls I see this each time I step out of the office around mid-December.
Exhausted from their week of final exams I catch them leaving the places they’ve called home the past four months. They’re lugging laundry baskets loaded with dirty clothes and jamming them into the cars awaiting them with popped trunks and doors hanging wide open. Second, third and even fourth trips back they bring with them items such as fans no longer needed until the spring, bikes for which they have no use on the harsh Michigan winter roads, and boxes of stuff they realize they don’t have space for in their small four-person rooms.
They know there is plenty of storage for all these items back at Mom and Dad’s, the place they likely will forever call home, even long after they’ve graduated and moved out into life beyond college.
And I feel jealous.
Not because I’m feeling homesick and pining to say I truly will be home in Monticello, Iowa, for Christmas. Not because I’m feeling exhausted myself and still have to work another seven days until I get to take my two-week Christmas break. Not because I’m feeling nostalgic and longing for the days when I was done with finals and had an entire month away where I had no deadlines or projects to worry me.
It’s all because I remember what it was like to be like them at that time in my life when I left Wartburg College around mid-December and Multiple Sclerosis had never crossed my mind.
Now, nearly two decades later, MS seemingly is always on my mind. For worse or for better. As a person with this chronic illness, as a primary caregiver for my wife who is dealing with the same damned disease.
Jealous because I can’t go back. Jealous because there’s nothing I could have done differently to keep me from getting diagnosed with MS. Jealous because this is one of the realities I forever will have to deal with.
Interesting that I never feel this way when the students go home for the summer. I’m quite sure it’s because I first learned that I “most likely had MS” nearly 12 years ago around mid-December.
Perhaps this merely is what it’s like to get older. I’ll be 40 next year (40!) and maybe it’s just that I’m getting a little nostalgic, longing for a simpler time in my life, the same way everyone does as they realize life forever changes and you never can go back to the simpler times.
I just happen to have MS, which sometimes complicates my thinking and briefly enables my inability to look forward.
But just briefly.