I just found out Dr. Paul Strange died this week. He was a close friend of my mother’s as well as the man for whom she worked for several years.
My mother is a Christian Scientist who worked as a nurse for Dr. Strange. We can unpack that dichotomy at another time, but when I asked her about how someone who doesn’t believe in medicine could work as a nurse, she simply said, “Lots of people have jobs they don’t believe in.”
My parents both worked hard at full time jobs that they didn’t love. My dad was clearly miserable and I remember thinking that I had to do whatever I could to avoid spending 40 hours of my week doing something I hated. My mother could make any job fun, she blooms wherever she’s planted. I never thought we were poor, but I knew that we didn’t have money like some of the other girls at school who had tanning beds in their homes or routinely went to Florida or Mexico during school vacations. Though my family didn’t have that kind of money, we sometimes went out to eat, had a VCR, a house with a big yard and many of the other comforts of middle class.
It was expected that I’d go to college and get a job I enjoy. I had absolutely no clue about money as a kid, other than my dad poured over spreadsheets and bills on weekends and played the lottery a lot. All my other friends had parents paying for college or scholarships. I figured that’s what would happen to me.
When I started applying to colleges, I got a rude awakening for how much tuition was going to cost. And as much as the travel but bug inside me wanted to go several states away, out of state tuition was out of the question. Indiana State University had reasonable prices and was far enough away that I’d have to stay there and not live at home. I’d been part of a summer theater program at ISU as a high school student so had a reasonable chance of getting some scholarship money.
I applied, I got in.
I figured finances would figure themselves out, either with scholarships, a part time job or this mythical thing called financial aid. My family didn’t qualify for financial aid. I got scholarships but not nearly enough. I didn’t realize at the time how much credit card debt my parents were in—a situation that would come to a head at the end of my college years and subsequently end their marriage.
My mom, not knowing what else to do, did the only thing she could. She prayed. Part of being a Christian Scientist is your daily “lesson” where you read assigned texts of The Bible and also Science and Health by the founder, Mary Baker Eddy. This is done as a daily meditation, you read the assigned passages from the two books and think about how they apply to your life and whatever healing you may need. My mom didn’t just read in the morning, but she took to going to a nearby Christian Science Reading Room on her lunch breaks.
Before she retired, my mom was the office cut up. She was a fun pal to make you laugh with over lunches and cigarette breaks. She was a prankster. She was not above wearing glasses with a penis nose at the office. When she started disappearing over lunch and being evasive about where she was going, it was assumed that my mother was probably having an affair until one day a coworker noticed mom’s car in the parking lot of the Christian Science Reading Room. The car was distinctive, a rusting Mercury Cougar that had gone from dark blue to purple from constant exposure to the sun.
Not long after that, Dr. Strange sat mom down and asked why was she spending her lunches at her church. Mom spilled everything. She confessed her stress about how to send me to college and that she was praying for a miracle.
The next day the doctor called her into his office again and said that he and his wife Judy thought that I could do a lot with a college degree and that I’d be something special. He said that they’d pay the difference in tuition that I didn’t get covered with scholarships. The one stipulation was that I could never be told that the Stranges were behind it.
Of course I was told after I graduated that the full ride scholarship I’d received was actually from the Stranges and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and the idea that two people who mostly knew me through stories from my mother believed in me so much, they’d make it possible for me to go to college. I didn’t have to pay them back other than to live a happy and productive life.
There’s so much I wouldn’t have had it not been for them. I’m sure I would have found another way to get a degree, it may have been at a much slower pace and with huge amounts of debt. Who knows where I’d be living and if I would have gotten the same tremendous job opportunities I’ve had here. Thanks to them, I got my degree in four years, I met many life long friends I still see today, I met my husband of 18 years and that’s also where I met the person who encouraged me to move to Minnesota. Though my degree is in theater, my performance and writing skills are a large part of my career as a interpretive naturalist and writer.
I’m forever grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Paul and Judy Strange. I wouldn’t have the weird little life that I cherish so much if they hadn’t stepped in. I sent them a letter after college. I acknowledge them in every book I get published. I try to be helpful to other people when they ask. But how can you ever repay people who step in at a crucial time in your life and open a world of possibilities so selflessly?
Dr. Strange is gone today. And the world for me is a little less than it was before.