I wrote this piece two years ago, shortly after graduation. Looking back on it now I have to laugh a little: not because I don't agree with what I wrote, but because I do. The truth of it is bittersweet and clearer to me now. At twenty, aping the tone of the wizened and world-weary would be absurd. I'm not Sam Spade or the Man With No Name, and I don't wish to be (okay, maybe the Man With No Name, maybe just a little). But there is something to be said for considering who you were back then and who you are now and swapping some honest notes. A good practice every few years, at the very least.
A passage from one of Richard Matheson's short stories has haunted for several months now. Matheson writes of one of his characters, “He’d thought it a mistake to choose so early in life and embrace the present good. He’d been a great one for looking for greener pastures. He’d kept looking until all his pastures were brown with time.”
I think about those lines a lot. I pray they can never be written truthfully about me.
As of June, high school officially ended for me. I am graduated. Gradumacated. One of the Alumni. Which sounds far more sophisticated than it actually is. (All it means, so far as I can tell, is that you managed to get through twelve grades without screwing up. High five.)
I take a step back, get a look at the past four years. Reminiscence. I can see my fourteen-year-old brain making calculations — "only four more years. Only four more years and I’ll be done." Adolescent folly. I was stupid back then. Still am, just in different ways.
If you had asked me what I meant by done I probably couldn’t have told you; not precisely anyway. I had the vague notion that school was an adversary, pinioning my arms behind my back. Once I completed the obligatory twelve years, I’d be free. Free to do the Real Stuff. College, a job, a family, the works. I could, in effect, “get on with life.”
Get on with life? Get on with life? Look around you, fool. This is life.
I think it would be amusing to encounter my younger self and give him — me — a talking to. Maybe in a restaurant over eggs and coffee, like in Looper. I would take aim and fire, but with words, not a gun. I’d point out the wrongness of that thinking, the wastefulness of it, the ingratitude that seeps from it like bog water.
Pause in your consideration of the lilies and consider yourself for one moment. You have been blessed to grow up in a faithful covenant home, a home where your education is as much a matter of the heart as of the head. You have been given an opportunity, by God’s grace, to grow and to learn and to expand your tiny horizons. And here you stand, a gripe on your lips. Your education is not a ball-and-chain – it’s a springboard. Onward and upward. Be thankful for it. Take advantage of it.
You are discontent. You greedily anticipate the next stage in life, the one where you’re no longer a high schooler. But do you think this discontent will fix itself when college comes around? It won’t. You’ll spend four years in college wanting to be finished with college. A vicious cycle, we call it. It won’t stop with marriage. It surely won’t stop with children. It won’t stop with the career you’ve always wanted, nor with a fat retirement check. On the contrary: the cycle will only spin faster.
Repent. You don’t want a monster like that on your hands. Put a gun to its head and pull the trigger, kid. Put yourself out of its misery. You need help, so pray to the only One who can give it.
I can’t step back in time and give myself this advice. I can only be thankful that God has opened my eyes to its truth; that He has given me a deeper thankfulness for where His providence has placed me, in the here and in the now. Present tense.
It isn’t finished, of course. I will struggle with this again and again, no matter how candles are planted atop my birthday cake. The beast won’t die this side of Glory. But knowing what I’m up against is half the battle – and I’m not going it alone.