Walking into my first college class at the age of 38 I should have known my world was about to expand, and that I was about to be stretched and inspired as never before.

Having married at 17, divorced at 24 then remarried at 34 I had spent my life working to pay the bills. At times I did that better than others. I sold radio advertising, was a floral designer, and even spent time as a car salesperson for a brief stint.

Starting college in my 30s was daunting. Someone said to me, “You’ll be 42 when you finish.”

Like not going to college would prevent aging?

The first semester I took classes in philosophy and psychology at Worcester State University. The very first essay I wrote for my philosophy class was based on the line from a Moody Blues song, “there is none so blind as he who will not see.”

Our instructions were to find a topic from current time and relate it to the time of Plato. My professor graded the paper with an A and a notation which read, “see me.”

Philosophy professors’ offices are different from other professors’ offices. There are papers, books and magazines everywhere, along with unanswered questions covering all the surfaces. Ideas float through the air, like ghosts of the past, present and future waiting to be re-examined.

Dr. Donald Traub would become a mentor to me. He was a man usually dusted with a gossamer film of chalk, who would inspire me by forcing me to seek the answers within, and to seek out the precious intersection of spirituality and psychology.

At that intersection I began to absorb how people are profoundly changed by interactions of the external and internal. The desire to compassionately comprehend these changes combined with the inherent desire to help heal connected me to my life’s work. I became like a sponge which had been left outside under the hot summer sun. I couldn’t absorb knowledge quickly enough.

My mind continued to expand, nurtured by Dr. Traub and other professors. After graduation I went on to graduate school then began working. I have worked with high risk children, teens and families, with people in the grip of addictions, with elders and their families and with the dying and grieving.

Maybe I should have known it would go this way. That assignment created an opening, a vow to truly see where psychological and spiritual pain comes from, and to promise to bear witness to pain and not shrink back from that which sears the human heart. I was inspired to help move people gently towards their pain, creating and holding a safe space for them to be with the pain, for in being with pain healing can begin. This is a process which demands courage from the person and those around them. As human beings our natural tendency, in fact our drive, is to move away from pain, to seek relief and solace.

Along the way I’ve learned the most amazing of life’s lessons. There can be great beauty and clarity alongside some of our most debilitating diseases. Humans have incredible resilience. Often our companion animals follow an intuitive sense which is beyond explanation. Humans have that sense too, but often it is dimmed by the outer world which lessens that connection somewhere along the path of life. But if we are blessed, a reconnection happens near the transition between life and death.

My greatest hope is that somehow Dr. Traub knows where his “see me” notation led me.

Susan Desmarais is a semi-retired counselor living in Oak Bluffs. She works with couples and individuals coping with miscarriage or stillbirth.