The sight of an envelope through the little window of my dorm mail box initially cheered me. But as I pulled the envelope out and felt its heavy bond, saw "Miss Susan H. Kamei" personally typed, and the "Office of Academic Affairs" as the imposing addressee, I got queasily uneasy. Did I forget to drop a class? Did I not submit some form necessary for completing my research project that spring quarter of my junior year? I elected to open this letter in the privacy of my dorm room.
After re-reading the letter in disbelief, I picked up the phone. "Mom, I just got this letter from the Chancellor's office, the Office of Academic Affairs," I started out. Her nervous "oh?" interrupted me. "Mom, I'll just read it to you, okay?" I got as far as "The Mu Chapter of California of the Phi Beta Kappa Society" and my mother shrieked. Shrieked. The one and only time I have ever heard that sound come out of her.
It also was one of the very rare times she broke a cardinal "Tiger Mother" rule, which is that you never let on to your children you are proud of them. You can brag immediately to everyone else, but you keep your children thinking that they must continue to do even better if you never praise them because otherwise success goes to their heads.
As I attended today's initiation ceremony for USC's crop of Phi Beta Kappa inductees, I wondered how many proud parents had emitted their own version of happy shrieks. The grandmother sitting next to me with her son and his wife had the last name Noda, and because I am related to Nodas, I struck up a conversation with them. During my dean's keynote address, the mom wiped tears from her eyes. As a mother, I understand this. (I also told the grandmother, "I think Grandma ought to buy the PBK pin." How quickly do you want to bet that granddaughter gets her pin?)
I also mused that so much of our news, good and bad, now comes by e-mail and that we miss out on the thrill and terror of opening envelopes. Clicking open an e-mail just does not have the same drama. On Monday, I knew when I opened an e-mail from my USC doctor that she would be telling me my IgM level from that day's test. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I knew that the path of my future health hinged on that number. I did pause ever so briefly, but I clicked it open quickly. No happy shrieks. In fact, I have needed most of this week to calibrate to the bad news.
I return to Rituxan next Thursday, as soon as I finish on Wednesday with an accreditation review team which arrives on Sunday. My calendar is cleared for about a week after that. I am counting on feeling energetic enough again to still fly to Boston in early May for Akemi's recital. At her recital, I promise not to shriek, but I reserve the right to wipe a tear from my eye.