Our world was full of opportunity and opaque hope a 13 months ago. We’d been graduated for 2 weeks, some of us had jobs, some of us had internships, some of us had downcast eyes as we couch-surfed until our finances and practically finally drove us home.
Reading graduation speeches that have flowed around us since early May has been disorienting. I feel the twinge of hope in my chest, in the place where my repeated stress injury tingles show up on bad days. I can remember how befogged my future was, all of our futures were. We didn’t know what it meant to keep on working on a project for years, 40 hours a week, and never have an end of term or a break or a grade. We didn’t know how lonely it is to be independent, how far away friends and family become with 8 hours of work between every social interaction. Our world was so bright with hope, we couldn’t see past it.
There were many people who demanded that we be unspeakably optimistic at that point. Our college fundraising teams, our professors, our parents, our peers. There was a miasma of unidirectional force surrounded by undirected hope. As we walked down our graduation gauntlets, praise for our future accomplishments rang in our ears, the clapping, singing, swaying brilliance of an accomplishment that had no clear future meaning. The world was too bright to matter to us, in that moment.
But we also didn’t know how resilient we were, after months of work collapse on a small, false decision how we still show up at 8:15am the next day, ready to rebuild, start from scratch. And how our new friends, our family of choice, would rally around us, sharing groans of disbelief at our bad fortune and reminding us that we exist outside of the office. We didn’t know how satisfying it is to pay for one’s rent out of one’s own paycheck, buy whatever we wanted for our pantry (and to build a pantry out of more than chips and beer).
We didn’t know how bright the sky is on a day when everyone in an organization supports our work, how good it feels to run with a pack, breaking off to catch some hard-to-find prey and then bringing it back for everyone. In staring so close and so long at the rising sun of our futures, we were blinded to the details.
There’s a darkness in growing up, that comes from shading-in our dreams. How change moves in the world in which we live now feels incapacitatingly slow. The shadows under our dreams are our failures, the trips we failed to take or the ones we took, only to find the Sphinx is rather small, and people in Paris are quite rude.
But those shadows, they are the best part. They add depth to the highlights, they add strength to the wins. They bring and involve and imbue meaning to what once was so vaugely lit, so underexplained. I hate to fail and I hate how hard it is to win, but when I win now, I feel it in my chest and my hips and my knees and my ears and my mind. I felt the hurts of losing, I knew how possible it was. Unlike the unreal accomplishment of a grade on a test, an accomplishment when we, every single one of us, is working for a better world is real. It is shadowed, but bright.
I wrote the above for a writing exchange in June, and my exchange partner shared this wonderful David Foster Wallace video with me:
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”–David Foster Wallace, This Is Water