Applying to graduate programs invokes a fear more powerful than seeking out colleges for undergraduate study. True, college takes longer, costs more and is frightening because it’s your first real foray into higher education. But with grad school, you’ve spent four years learning how to be a student, and padding your resume to make it into some top-notch places. What everyone forgets about school after the bachelor’s degree is that everything matters more. Grad schools, more than anything else, are career-shaping, financially-tenuous, maddeningly-influential powerhouses that determine the fates of so many young people. That interim period of waiting for letters of acceptance or rejection is more harrowing for those reasons, and tests humanity’s capacity to withstand the powers within our world.
So when I got the news that the next two years of my life weren’t going to be close to Radha Madhav Dham, it was like a death sentence. When I sent out my applications, I supplanted my fears with faith in God and Guru. I knew that Maharajji would not send me anywhere I wasn’t needed, for my sake or others. Wherever I ended up, I had faith I would perform to the best of my abilities, to transform me into a more fitting sevak for the ashram. But I applied to two University of Texas programs, both in Austin, nurturing a hope deep within my heart that I could continue my field of study from both homes I had there, that of my mother’s and my truest home, Radha Madhav Dham. Being back from Pennsylvania for only three months in the summer and one in the winter was rough going, not just on my emotions but on my devotions. I wanted so badly to go home that I put a good deal of my eggs in one basket, praying to Maharajji that they wouldn’t break and spill my hopes everywhere.
The first rejection was half expected. It was from the more prestigious UT Austin program, the one that accepted only one fiction writer out of six total students, but gave them a generous $25,000 stipend on top of a free ride. Being that my recent focus had been on nonfiction, and having to compete with the rest of the world, the odds weren’t in my favor. But I bore it with as much grace as I could muster. I still had one more chance to come home. Maharajji knows how much I want to come home, and he will decide what is best.
In the weeks that followed, I got two back-to-back acceptances, one from the University of Pittsburgh, the other from Columbia. Both programs offered a lot, not just in terms of fellowship money, but in their respective program’s strengths. One of the writing professors from Columbia actually called me to tell me the good news. I couldn’t help but be delighted to be sought after by such excellent schools, and I thanked my Guru for all the grace he was showing me. But I held back from showing extravagant joy at the news, stubbornly refusing all final decision-making before hearing from the last Texas program.
That rejection came last Friday, and when it did, I entered a very new kind of depression. It isn’t the kind that immediately sends you into tears or lethargy, or the one that turns your face pale and chills your blood. This mood pushed me away from all company Friday night, sending me to bed early after working on classwork. It is the fatalistic idea that I will not see much of the home I have found in Radha Madhav Dham for at least two years. This depression will not come into effect until my last day in Austin, when I stare up at the temple I love and try to take as much of its memory as I can with me to some faraway city, to hold love for God within me, and maybe Maharajji will bless me with the pain of separation so that I know my devotion is still alive and well, and when I cry my tears will feel the sweeter for it.