Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Verve Were Right: A Bittersweet Symphony Is Life

It’s odd how things change. A general conclusion was achieved over the last few days at Our Lady’s University that this year’s saying good-byes was considerably less of a big deal than last’s. This was more business-like. Pack up, move out, hugs and handpounds all around, and really, that’s all you can do. The steady march of time sweeps everything else up, and there’s little you can do about it. For some people going away for the fall semester, or perhaps their entire junior year, it may be over a year until I see them again, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it except attempt to stay-in-touch. What else could I do?

Junior year? Incredible to fathom that I’m no longer, as one of the fantastic professors I had this semester put it, “sophomoric”. Talk about getting memories confused between first and second semester, it now feels like certain events that happened freshman year feel like I just did them. Is that a good thing? I think so; a testament to my memory if nothing else, but wow. MacKrell had a quote book he kept for all of freshman year and some of sophomore, and leafing through it with him and Patrick was an emotionally draining experience. Pete Winter quotes, 110 references…months ago, all of them, and they feel like they were yesterday. Does that mean we’re living in the past or too paranoid about the future? Perhaps a little bit of both?

I thought going into sophomore year that it would be the best of the bunch. We had our bearings on campus, yet we weren’t too old or jaded to enjoy it. Nobody had to worry about groups of friends being abroad like junior year, or finding jobs or applying to various grad schools like senior year. I thought it would no doubt be a recipe for, if you’ll allow me to reference the great NPH, “legendary”. And honestly, sophomore year was a really good time. We spent many a night over the last few weeks upstairs reminiscing, and the general conclusion was that everyone had enjoyed this semester, and was both happy and sad for it to be ending.

I was pondering why that was: why did everyone always feel somewhat disappointed, yet somewhat happy to go? I realized why this was when our conversation turned to high school, and the immediate turn when you’re discussing high school is immediately “How much would you love to go back and do it again”. It’s not that we’re unhappy in college, it’s just the natural reaction against the slow march of time. If you asked anyone right now if they’d want to repeat freshman year, or immediately take another crack at high school, who would say no? If you had a great time, who wouldn’t want to relive it? If you had a terrible time, wouldn’t you want to use what you know now to make it better for yourself?

It would take a self-actualized, rooted-in-the-present person to turn down a “Here’s your chance to repeat high school with everything you know now” offer. It would be absolutely fascinating. Would you apply to the same schools? Date the same people? Play the same sports or read the same books or participate in the same activities? It’s the reason why movies like Dazed & Confused, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Mean Girls are so popular, or why books like Be More Chill or the newly-released, apparently-fantastic and queued-at-the-top-of-my-reading-list King Dork are so attractive to college students and adults: There are a thousand things you can do in life, but one of the few you can’t is repeat the past.

(Cue the Jay Gatsby “But of course you can!” here. Lesson: Jay Gatsby was shot in his pool and had single-digits in attendance at his funeral. The man did throw some killer parties, though, so as Mr. Smeltz always put it “Life is all about trade-offs.”)

So it’s not that sophomore year wasn’t enjoyable, it’s just that it’s gone now, and that terrifying fact sort of blurs the good times. Halfway done with college. It’s insane to think about. It seems like yesterday I was going to freshman orientation at West Shamokin, and now, in a year’s time I’ll be interviewing for jobs or grad school or something, and the worst part is, that year will go by in a blink of an eye. The only thing you can possibly do, as no one is saved from the sad truths of mortality and time, is to make the most of every second. I’m not here to tell you what that is, but you and I both know it when we feel it. Summer is going to breeze by, so enjoy the time you have with friends, enjoy the limited roadtrips (damn you, OPEC) and enjoy those far-off internships you have (I’ll miss you, AMack), because before you know it, it’ll be fall semester.

The final words I’ll end this with comes from one of the great men I know, Mr. Mike Flanagan, from a post I wrote up last April about how privileged we were to have him as an RA:

”When asked if he was sad, happy, or mixed about his impending departure and the last day of classes today, Mike didn’t really think about it, and simply responded ‘Just sad.’”

There is no way to leave this experience without at least a hint of sadness in your heart, no matter how many clubs you were involved in, how hard you partied or how sweet the job waiting for you on the other side is. I reckon few people made more out of their college experience than Flanny, and in that immense joy he felt over the four years is the pain inherent in leaving: To open yourself up to getting the most out of any experience or relationship, you immediately open yourself up to the pain of losing that experience. The best you can do is to enjoy the hell out of yourself, and somewhere down the road when a machine is invented that gives you the chance to relive your college years, you can jump at the opportunity.

Not because you did anything wrong and want a re-do, but simply because you had so much fun you’d be crazy not to do it again.

Happy Summer Everyone.

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