Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Crossing the Bridge

In Shrek, there is a moment when Donkey and Shrek are about to cross a rickety rope bridge over a boiling lake of lava. Donkey is scared, but Shrek convinces him to cross (you know the moment I'm thinking of, right?). Halfway across the bridge, Donkey changes his mind and tries to go back, but can't. The past is closed to him, and even if it's kicking and screaming, he has to move on with his life.

I've been thinking, recently, a lot about transitions, about moving on. It's an infinitely scary process, one that ties in with my last post about the future. Transitions are moving to the future, making what we've only thought about in theory into truths, even if its the transition from chore to chore, or from high school to college, or college to workforce, or childhood to adulthood, or anything. The funny thing is, it seems like a lot of these transitions take place all at the same time, the pivotal moment when high school ends and you decide: Am I happy where my life is going? Do I know what's going to happen? What I want to happen?

The answer, last year, as I walked down the graduation path and people kept asking me if I was excited about my future, was largely no. I didn't know where my life was going; I had applied and was entering a school for International Business, something that I thought would be a good, money-making career for me to live on while I tried to make my real dreams happen, something that I chose because I'm good at math, which is a subject I hate. I honestly thought the school would be good for me, that the major I had chosen I, while not loving, would at least not hate, perhaps even enjoy. I wasn't excited, I didn't know what was going to happen, didn't really even know what I wanted to happen.

Why must we be excited for the future? Why can't we be scared, or ambiguous towards it?

And if we're not excited, does that mean that we made the wrong decision somewhere along the line?

So much in our lives rides on our decisions, at least in this country, when we turn 18; when we graduate from the years of required school and make the decision to go where we will. Will you stay in school and go to college? And, if so, what will you do? Will you join the military, will you stay out of school and try to find your path somewhere else? What will you do?

We are raised to believe everything in our future, every single step that we take, rides on this decision. It cannot be undone, you will live with it for the rest of your lives. Perhaps this is why the decision is so scary.

But does everything really ride on what we choose? If the future is as full of unknowns as it seems to be, isn't full of unknowns even if we make a choice on where we think we want to be? Maybe a fewer amount, but for the short, golden time between 18 and 21--or other ages, perhaps--you can undo what you've done, at least a little. You can drop out of school, you can go to school. Your mind is still in that almost place, the one where its a sponge that's almost fully formed, but not quite there yet, and you still have a few years before it begins to harden to keep growing. But why simply then? Does the sponge of your mind ever truly harden? I don't really think so, not from what I've seen.

I quickly found that I was not suited to the school. I felt harassed, unrespected, and an outcast. Then there was the fact that, yes, I knew, with all my person, that Business was not the place for me, and suddenly there was no place for me at the school. No major, no focus. So I made the decision to move out of my room, to transfer out of the school.

No, I'm in the same place I was before, back to the transition I felt walking down the graduation path towards whatever was in my future. It's a new future, one I feel more excited for now that I think about it, and alternately more scared about. If this doesn't work out, where will I be? What will I do? Tens of thousands of dollars have already been spent on me, can anymore?

Perhaps that's why we think our decisions now are so important, why the transitions weigh so heavily on us. It's expensive to change your mind; higher education in the US, at least, is not free, and whether your parents or you are paying, it is a lot to think about. Later on, perhaps it's easier, though maybe not by much, to branch to a different place, to jump to a different path, with security still in your grip in case you fall.

This, I think, is why transitions are so difficult. They are the hardening of our paths, when we still can't see fully down the road, but the other places we thought about going are obscured by fog. They are the last times we can say, "No, I choose this instead!" And even then, the change is a difficult one, still with rocks and treacheries, and sharp things, and black hands we may or may not imagine just waiting to pull us down into the abyss below. Transitions solidify what, previously, was only in abstract, and they don't reveal all that much to us in the process. But even then, can't every path be changed? I certainly hope so.
"Alex felt proud of himself. He was doing everything he had to do. It was hard for him, hard for all of them, but he pictured Bri and how brave she was, and he felt a new surge of pride. Carlos would say Bri was brave because she was the sister of a Marine, but Alex was learning there were a lot of different ways of being a fighter. Even Papi would be proud of Alex. When he came back, he'd treat Alex with a newfound respect." ~Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Dead & The Gone

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