I have heard from a number of friends lately who are beginning their last year of post-secondary education and looking forward (with both apprehension and anticipation) to all the possibility that awaits them in their next steps. Naturally, it has made me think of my own feelings at that time, and I recalled this piece because I wrote it to capture my thoughts on facing the unknown. So, here it is - dedicated at all of you who (regardless of age) are in that incredible season of dreams and choices.
In these halls, silence seems foreign. It is almost deafening, now, to hear nothing but white noise; that perpetual hum that I thought had been banned from this place. Until now, I had never heard silence here.
In the rooms on either side of this empty hall, I have spent countless hours studying the life and work of numerous individuals. Today, their secrets are closed behind the locked doors – awaiting the arrival of other students who will walk the same endless halls. They will study the same people and concepts that I did, and learn to examine their world through the eyes of others. The examination of one’s own life, however, can be somewhat strange – like the impenetrable silence in which I stand.
I have changed. That is the only conclusion I can draw in the moment. While I recognize this simple and very obvious fact, I understand little more of the matter. Actually, I cannot identify what has changed.
I have gained half again my height.
My hair isn’t as soft and fine.
I have lost the baby fat in my cheeks.
But this is not what I mean. These are only physical manifestations. The feeling I am trying to identify is lost somewhere between the endless tangle of concepts like “maturity”, “development” and “knowledge”. It is a combination of things that I picked up along the road, a few pieces between each milestone. The titles read: “Lessons Learned”, “Talents Discovered” and “Characteristics Developed”. In exchange, I feel, I left behind a part of who I had been.
But this cannot be the answer: I am still the same person. The same desires rest in my heart, though they, like me, are somewhat furthered – like a vision willed into reality. Perhaps it is just that I understand them better and see more of what they truly are.
Looking back, I can see the reflection of the self I know today, in the child that stepped foot inside a school yard for the first time. I walked up the little pathway in my new little black shoes and opened the gate of the white picket fence. I entered the yard quietly, but I was not lacking in confidence. This was where I belonged. It was like I had been there before.
I noticed, at the far side of the school yard, there was a hill. A small thicket emerged from it, and two boys hid behind the branches of a bush. “Strange place to hide,” I thought, walking towards them. I stood directly in front of the pathway that led up the hill to where they stood, my arms bent, hands grasping the straps of my backpack on both sides.
“Look at David!” the larger boy said. David stepped out onto the path at the top of the hill. “Keep watching him,” I was told. “Don’t look away.” The other boy started towards me, and then put all his weight into a forward charge down the hill. As he got closer, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, his arms reaching down for the ground and one leg sliding out towards me. I continued to watch David, as I had been instructed. Suddenly my legs gave way, and I found myself on the ground. Both boys held their sides, laughing hysterically.
Slowly, I picked myself up and dusted the dirt off of my clothes. ‘Andrew’, as I would learn to call him, returned to the top of his castle in triumph and instructed me, “Watch David!” again. Once more, I obeyed. I did not break my gaze, even when I saw Andrew’s leg swing out again.
This time was different, however. This time, I knew his intention, and I was ready. I stepped slightly to the side, and set my legs firmly where I could control the exact point of impact. The result was dramatic. It was just a matter of catching my foot around his, and I sent him tumbling down the rest of the incline.
That was it. It took nothing more. I had earned their respect, and everyone thought it safer not to mess with me. They considered me their equal. I know this because their secret meetings, which were preceded by the announcement, “No girls allowed!” included me always. Only occasionally, was I obliged to challenge anyone who disputed the topic to a wrestling match to settle the issue. It was a safe bet for me, as we all believed I could “take out” anyone there, despite the disadvantage of my smaller size.
So, some things never change, I guess. I still value brain over brawn, and I am still hopelessly competitive. I appreciate respect and I refuse to be taken advantage of. Although thirteen years have passed; that has not changed. I am the same little girl who preferred a mud fight or game of soccer to painting my nails or playing hop-scotch. So what is different?
I am now wandering the halls of an abandoned school. I am alone in that silence that I once longed for. In those longings though, it was romanticized. It is somehow different – less grand – in reality. Now, it almost seems eerie and unnatural. The emptiness is haunting; reminiscent of the past I will see only from a sealed window. I stare through the glass panes and suddenly I feel like Wendy staring out at Peter Pan. “I don’t want to grow up!” I whisper. The echoes answer, “Tonight is your last night in the nursery.”
And so it is. Today I step into the unknown. I leave behind the security of structure and planning and take a stride into the emptiness of uncertainly. However, that part of me that lives for the adventure of ‘not knowing’ is still intact. I would not trade this next step for the world.
Change within a person is like sand: we understand that it is real, we can see it and believe that it exists; it is formed a little at a time and will continue to build up, one grain upon another. But, the more you try to grasp it the more the essence of it will slip through your fingers, and be lost entirely.
We understand that change is related to time and the passage of a measurable difference. However, we know nothing of time other than the simple fact that it is the absence of eternity. I can reason through this equation, but it brings me no closer to comprehension. Change is something that is easily seen in the physical realm. It is felt emotionally, and while it is obtained, it will never be fully understood.
Today, however, I stand at the nursery window. Grasping the sand is no longer of importance. It flows freely as I loosen my grip, falling to the ground like pixie dust. Leaving the nursery is easier when you know that you can fly…