She said “This better be worth it” and then wagged a finger in my face, as if I had any power at all in making it worth it or not.
As is often the case, I didn’t say anything in response. I just let her turn around and begin the walk toward her next class, where the exam she’d spent four days preparing for would be handed to her by a cold and serious professor who didn’t actually have any power in making it worth it or not, either. I wanted to tell her that, that and more. But by then she was gone.
Not that actually saying something would have helped. I’ve learned that for the most part you should just keep your mouth shut when someone is venting in your general direction. Using words is not your job. Even the kindest and most heartfelt advice can backfire. Let them say their peace and wag their finger and warn that this better be worth it. If you have to do something, just do things like nod and smile and purse your lips. That seems to work.
The tantrum above is of a fairly common sort around here, the result of a combination of too much course work to keep up with and too little time to do it all. I’ll give the young lady who was yelling at me credit, though. She was still trying. Most of the college students here give up around this time of year, content to either coast their way through the remainder of the semester or acknowledge defeat and withdraw.
But not her. She’s in this for the long haul. All of the papers to write and textbooks to read and exams to take are merely the last obstacle the must hurdle on the way to what she wants most in life.
That’s it, just that one word. While many people her age seem to have their futures already laid out in detail, including everything from their work to their home to what they’re going to drive, she’s kept things manageably broad. She just wants happiness. Whatever profession she ends up entering, whatever sort of house she ends up living in, and whatever vehicle she drives doesn’t really matter. Just as long as they offer her a happy life.
I didn’t really know what to say to that. I’d never known anyone who went to college just to be happy on the other side of those four years. And though I was tempted to say here reasons for studying so hard and fretting so much were good ones, I couldn’t. Because that just didn’t seem right to me.
There was a time when I measured my own happiness as the distance between the life I lived and the life I wanted. The closer those two lives approached one another, the happier I was. The farther away they drifted, the more miserable I became.
And that seemed right to me in a funny sort of way. I thought that everyone needed a goal, someplace to get to or something to accomplish. Such a thing kept people from fading away into the sort of death that can find the heart long before the body. I still think that’s true. But where I tripped myself up was in thinking that I couldn’t be happy until I got there.
I think that’s sort of what’s happening to the student who was yelling at me. “This better be worth it,” she said. By which she really meant, All of this work now better bring me happiness in the end.
Maybe it will. I certainly hope so.
But a part of me thinks she’ll learn what I did, that the things she seeks are with her now, this instant, and that she misses them because she constantly looks ahead rather than around.
She’s right in believing that happiness is a place and a time. But it isn’t later, somewhere else.
It’s here, now.