The End of The Beginning: An Inconclusive Conclusion

I have been avoiding this column. It calls for a summing-up, a conclusion, that I cannot give. Honestly, if there’s anything I’ve realized about this year, it’s that finding a conclusion is like waiting for Godot: hopeless.

This, at least, is a sentiment I can echo. When I was younger and we’d sit in a circle around the teacher and I’d try to remember to cross my legs so creepy Jason Robbins wouldn’t see the color of my underwear, we were often asked questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I would inevitably answer, “Peter Pan,” because, of course, I wanted to go on adventures on a tropical island populated by pirates, fairies, and the occasional nefarious crocodile, and I didn’t want to grow up.

As you might imagine, this hasn’t worked out too well for me. Some people might choose to blame the inexorable force of time, but I think I’m going to lay the blame on Wonder Boy himself, because if maybe he’d done some more chin-ups, he could’ve opened my window, reclaimed his shadow, and escorted me off to Neverland (with, as long as we’re dreaming, a pit stop at Pride Rock along the way). Nevertheless, he probably went frolicking with the Lost Boys instead, and somehow, during all that time I was waiting, I grew up.

If there’s any theme I’ve noticed in my columns, it’s a fear of time passing. I know—every senior out there is probably scoffing. But everyone confronts upheaval at the end of the year, from sophomores venturing abroad to juniors facing only one more year to first-years facing one less. As Fleetwood Mac once said, “I’ve been afraid of changing, ’cause I built my life around you.” So, as childish as it is, I don’t want things to change because I’m happy where I am now.

In Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen tells a story about a man who awakens in the night to track down the source of a terrible noise. It is what she calls a “moving story,” where each moment in the narrative is mirrored by a drawing. As the man ventures into the night, he must drive around rocks in the road and plunge through ditches, and throughout the tale, his course is dutifully sketched on a piece of paper. When he comes to a reservoir holding fish on his plantation, he finds a massive leak that’s responsible for the noise that he must patch. Afterward, he continues along the far side of the water to arrive back at his home. When the story is finished, a drawing of a stork is revealed, where the ditches are his talons, the rocks his knobby knees, the reservoir his wing, and the man’s home with a round window and triangular garden his head.

It is a story told to children, but Dinesen asks, “The tight place, the dark pit in which I am now lying, of what bird is it the talon? When the design of my life is completed, shall I, shall other people, see a stork?”

These are the questions that plague me now. I worry that I won’t find my way around obstacles when I encounter them or be ready to repair the reservoir when I stumble upon it and that I won’t find my way home even if I do. I fear a path that twists and turns but doesn’t paint any picture.

Yet, there is solace in each step. In starting to read the newspaper (OK, the headlines of the first page) and giving the crossword a crack every Monday, I have realized there is something to be said for gracefully growing up. For one thing, I’m learning to appreciate the bitter nuances of coffee and realizing that I can choke down the dark green leaves of lettuce. I started playing tennis for when I won’t have a team of ultimate frisbee players to call up. I learned some things I loved and discovered others I detested. I’ve been taking steps toward creating whatever the underlying purpose is; I just can’t see it yet. And I am beginning to see that I shouldn’t try to force myself (mercurial as I am) to try to predict that picture. As much as I hate to let these words escape my mind onto paper—only time will tell. And so grow up I must.

But I want to savor each step left of this year. Mimosas on Mondays, tennis on Tuesdays, sneaking into the pool on the slightest excuse, stealing an orange traffic cone from a construction site (as three boys passing me right now seem to have)—I don’t care what form it takes, I just want to seize life. Or, if there’s none handy, that traffic cone.

So as promised, my concluding column isn’t very conclusive at all. If anything, I am restless in reflection. In the end, I can’t say anything very definitive about this year at all. I’m not closer to a major, nor finding myself, nor giving anybody any real concrete advice on anything. I came into this year thinking that this was when I’d finally begin to make progress untangling the snarl of who I am, but I think I’ve come out the other side only more tangled.

I can’t see the big picture of my life yet, is what I’m trying to say. In fact, the more I try, the more complicated of a picture it becomes. But if I know anything, it is this: The path I am forging is twisting, and I don’t imagine it will ever have a fixed destination, but right now, no matter how disoriented I am, I’m at a crest in the picture. And I’m going to try to believe—blindly but unreservedly—that around the next bend comes crest after crest as far as the eye can see.

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