The snow began to fall early Tuesday morning and, like some kind of non-dystopian Silicon Valley technology firm, delightfully disrupted our lives. Classes were cancelled, local children sledded the rolling hills of our campus, and many a Swarthmorean sported scarves and sweaters and other such beautiful winter saratorial festoonment. I, myself ,was quite lackadaisical and unproductive as I passed the time with a few friends, soaking my shoes in the slush and engaging in the philosophical speculation that characterizes so many conversations at any college, especially one as liberal and artsy as our own.
This column will be a more personal note than is usual for me. My numerous loyal readers will know that my last three columns have been about contemporary American politics and society. I have not told you much about myself. But seeing the children sledding down the hills in front of Parrish Beach and around Mccabe Library stirred within me nostalgic feelings and life reflections that I want to share here.
I feel lost and I feel loss. I do not know what to do anymore and I feel that a sense of self I once possessed is gone. In our existential age, youth is when you are supposed to question who you are and what you believe, when the values and personhood given to you by your society and family are subject to critical examination so that you can redefine your own being. But I am worried I never had a personhood or values to begin with. I feel rootless. I feel that I was blind my whole life and did not know it. Now that I have gained sight, all I see is fog. This is not necessarily always unpleasant but it is certainly unsustainable.
Coming to college has expanded my worldview, but I do not know if I have grown enough as a person to meet the challenges of maturity. In high school my life was small and I was fairly dissatisfied, but I was the master of my domain. Teachers liked me, I had a good reputation in my school, I knew who I could trust, who was right, and who was wrong. Since coming to college, I have encountered a wider variety of people and viewpoints than I ever did in high school. I have modified a few of my beliefs and habits and have, in a few small ways, improved. But, for the most part, I think that I have failed to live up to the challenge of adulthood. I have acted like a child and it has hurt and upset people around me. I am not trying to be overly harsh on myself; honest, fair self-examination has led me to the conclusion that I have not been living up to my own standards and principles. I think that nostalgia can be beautiful, but for the past several years I have used it to excuse my own immaturity and fear of becoming more self-sufficient.
My problem, and I suspect the problem of a lot of my friends, is that we do not believe in anything. We know things and we study arguments and defend certain positions, but I feel that in order to really believe in something you have to live it. I’ll remain lost so long as I do not try to settle anywhere. I feel like my fear is that I will settle in the wrong place. It is easy for me to see how things could go wrong, how certain positions can lead people astray. But my brother, who is older and wiser than me, gave me the advice that it is better and more important to pursue any goal than to have a perfect goal. We are all trying to get to the same place; the land of milk and honey and social justice and self-actualization. We all know we have to take our own paths to get there.
To continue with the path metaphor, I feel like I am standing at a fork in the road with a signpost pointing to twenty different paths I could take. I know where I want to get to, but I do not really know which one of the roads will take me there. So I have been waiting in front of the signpost and not going anywhere. Perhaps if I choose a path I will not be going directly to my destination, but I will probably be getting closer to it. Even if I go down a path that takes me further from my destination, I will only learn that by getting a better idea of how to get where I want to go, which will not happen by waiting in front of the signpost. Since I do not want to be lost anymore, I should go ahead and get somewhere.