I hadn’t really been still enough to feel it. As my flight was delayed another thirty minutes I found myself sitting with nothing to do but think. And my mind went to her. I, in large part was in San Diego because of her.
“Have you filled out your PhD applications?” She would ask me every time she saw me, be it before class or after, in passing and sometimes via email. My answer was always a grumble. I told her I couldn’t figure out why I was so unmotivated but I couldn’t get moving on them. They were started but incomplete and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted. Psychology? Counseling? Something else altogether? She talked me through the process for each. “Reach out to people!” “Have you been to visit?” “Work backwards, what do you want when it’s done?”
After class one night I was driving her home because she’d injured her rotator cuff. She thanked me as she did every week and I told her no problem. “Have you filled out your PhD applications?” She was not going to drop it. I told her no, and that I was wondering if that was still the route I wanted to take. I would continue asking myself this question for months as I applied for jobs and school simultaneously. Then, I wouldn’t have admitted that I was terrified, but now I can look back and put a name on the hesitancy. “Well just give yourself the option. Just in case. I don’t mind reading over your application if you’d like me to.” And she did. She edited my personal statement and she wrote me a letter of recommendation. It was the only one I saw because she shared it with me. Doting on my commitment to self-care, supporting others, willingness to go the extra mile, and my writing skill. It was as if she’d seen me in my very best light. I wanted to be the student she wrote about, as if I were not already.
When I heard the news from a former co-worker that Dr.Painter had passed away I couldn’t believe it. I felt like she was supposed to always be there. Or at least until I finished so I could show her I’d followed it through. Trusted faith and not fear. To thank her for her words and her mentorship. To thank her for the syllabus she helped me write for my first counseling practice course. To thank her for showing me how to get out of uncomfortable conversations with negative people. To thank her for so much I learned from her in my two years during my Masters and the years after that we kept in modest touch.
I think along with her friends and family, we–her students–are a testament to the impact she had on this world. Her class was the first class that allowed me access to my true writing voice. It was the first time I felt maybe I did not have to keep them separate, my creative and academic selves. Would I have ever even finished the application to USD if it were not for her persisting? I’d like to think so but I’ll never know. And thank goodness because it was the best decision for me. In my heart of hearts I mostly want to thank her for seeing something in me I did not yet see in myself. For believing in me and giving me opportunities I would need to grow into, that scared me, challenged me and that changed me.
Dr. Painter, I have no doubt that I was not the only student deeply touched by your being in my life. That is a true testament not to your life as a teacher, but to your life as a beautiful being. You will be missed greatly and may good deeds of deep faith be done in your memory.