In her dream, she was falling.
Crazy tumbling images spun by. Her logical scientific mind frantically grabbed but failed to hold onto the connective tissue that floated just out of consciousness. Her intuitive, primal spirit found a thread and pulled, gently braking the whirling carousel. The random images, sounds, and emotions connected; not in any logical order or sequence, but started to make sense.
In this dreamy vignette, young girls filled the small gym at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine grammar school. A whirl of motion, navy jumpers over absurd blue bloomers, six to a side, as the rules of the day dictated. Basketball, boys or girls, ruled the neighborhood. From grade one through high school, the thud thud thud of ball against the ground was as much a part of the atmosphere as car horns, cooing pigeons, and soft Irish accents of mothers and grandfathers.
The tone of the rhythmic thump changed from leather on wood to the metallic ping of ball meeting concrete. Gone was the swish of the net, replaced by the clang and rattle of the garbage can used for target practice outside the oval that centered Devoe Park. The oval was the neighborhood coliseum for serious players, usually male. Plenty of local girls could compete against the best boys, and handily beat the average ones. But in her dream, she was not one of those girls.
She was still falling. Her vision melted into a kaleidoscope of maroon and white. Words and letters appeared above and beside her, then turned upside down as she descended. Familiar words. She carried them for four years and earned an F, the prized varsity letter that represented Fordham. Fordham University, the place where she found her niche among the best cheerleaders. The place where she achieved academic excellence. The place where once again the arrogance of men tried to keep her from playing on their court. Forgive me, Father, but I will not be known as Young Miss, but as Doctor.
The picture changed again. A boisterous crowd filled row after ascending row in the most famous of all arenas: Madison Square Garden, home of countless basketball confrontations, rock concerts, and the occasional mass wedding. A young college man, playing his heart out for his school, grew older with each dribble, his face and figure becoming the comforting man she woke up to that very morning. Alongside him ran two boys, who, like the man they resembled, grew into young teens, then mature young men. They were as clear and familiar as her own heart, the heart that pounded as she presented them to the world.
There was no rat-infested apartment building in this dream, no terrifying first lab class with dissected rodents under her shaking hand, no arrogant Jesuit blocking her access to a life in medicine.
There were only twenty-five thousand cheering fans, falling with her, helping feather the landing, and sharing the fear and joy of a tumultuous ride.
She slowly woke, the places of the past replaced by the contours of her office. Her eyes briefly rested on the wall of framed accomplishments. The sounds of distant cheering remained faintly in her ears, as grateful neighbors saluted the arriving colleagues that fight to keep other people’s dreams alive.
Her hand rose to her white coat, feeling for the Blue and Gold SNT, or the Maroon and White Letters she gained at Fordham. Instead, her fingers found the symbol of her calling. She gave a reverent squeeze to the simple tag that bore her name and the most honorable letters, M.D.