There are some things in life that we are so terribly afraid of, things that, for lack of a better phrase, we are “scared shitless” of. We exhaust all efforts in our power to delay their onset and prolong that precious time between “now” and “then”, but as we inevitably come to realize, denial is futile.
It was on the nicest and brightest day during the summer of 2009 that I knew my time was running out. I was about to leave for university, and I was terrified. To me, the idea of “leaving for university” was defined less by a two-hour drive out east, and more so by a one-way departure to a radically different life. I could not consciously comprehend or even begin to describe to others just how anxious I felt. I was terrified.
We bought the fridge, and the collapsible shelves. I packed the duffle bags. I changed my phone number and, both superficially and dishonestly, penned a status-update “excitingly” declaring I was off to university. Sure, I was interested to finally enter the ecosystem of timeless university spirit, casual hookups, and empowering independence that students and alumni rave about. But I was still terrified. Why?
While part of the fear was “logistical” (laundry, cooking, and cleaning were three words that were embarrassingly foreign to me), my real distress was grounded in a much deeper domain. I was worried about ending one life and beginning another, about making new friends in a new city, and about watching old bonds and old traditions quickly disappear. As the days of summer quickly counted down, I tried harder and harder to avoid the inevitable, but time did what it still does best: elapse. Saturday morning arrived, and I had to go.
I said goodbye to my parents, and as quickly as the door shut behind me, my new life began. In the residence lobby, I overheard a fellow student saying goodbye to his older brother. His older brother explained to him how jealous he was, and how much he wished he could do it all over again. He preached a piece of advice that is so widely understood yet so frequently overlooked: “Your time will fly. Enjoy this while you can.” As I eavesdropped, this piece of advice entered my right ear and exited my left, for I was too smart to fall for what I thought was foolish and colloquial bullshit. I just wanted to leave.
I do not want to leave. Four years later, and I am the fool.
I can capture the essence of my last four years in three simple words: sad, challenging, and happy. As one would expect, these three feelings manifested themselves chronologically, and at times somatically-marked by their own songs, relationships, and TV-shows. I changed. At the hands of sudden conflicts, challenging group projects, unexpected rejections and surprising acceptances, I grew. I improved, and I made it. I created some of the most powerful friendships, ones where, to this day, I wonder how it is possible that two people can value such similar principles, and understand each other so well. I learned some of the most important lessons, lessons about self-reflection, saying sorry, and making sacrifices to follow our hearts. I learned that a separation between my friends and my family, between my “home life” and my “social life”, is healthy, and inevitable. With the recent elevation of helicopter parenting, I’m grateful that I carved out my own path, said no when necessary, and made my own decisions, even if I still have more to learn. I do have more to learn.
Four years later, and I am happy. But I am terrified. Again.
I return home to the city I so desperately did not want to leave 44 short months ago, and even with a full-time job and fully-furnished room waiting for me, things have never felt so uncertain. In the most powerful parallel that I can describe, I feel the same feelings of my first-year self, but in an entirely new context. I find myself leaving behind old bonds and old connections, forced to forge a new path, of new friendships and a new purpose. I guess this is why “constants” are the exception, and “change” is the rule. As a soon-to-be graduate, I’m nervous to enter a new period that will be defined by people and marked by places of which, right now, I have no clue. But I will meet these people, and discover these places. Somehow, I will make this transition.
I can’t help but end with a metaphor, of two boats docked at a port. Both ships are identical, in shape, colour, and size. One is surrounded by hundreds of people, cheering, gazing and looking on with infatuation. It’s a celebration. The other is surrounded by utter and absolute silence. Not a single soul attends to it. Only one man had the courage to ask why such similar ships received such starkly different treatment, and the answer was simple: one ship had just returned from its journey. The other was about to depart.