Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Road Not Taken

Almost five years ago, a letter arrived in my mailbox from a girl I didn’t know. She loved showing dogs, riding horses, and Star Wars. I wrote back, telling her that I was allergic to dogs, knew nothing about horses, and had never heard of Star Wars. We haven’t stopped writing since.

Soon the letters turned to emails, then phone calls, then visits to each other’s houses. She got me hooked on Star Wars; I introduced her to Hawaii Five-O. We went swimming and biking, baked cookies and cherry pies, and watched Return of the Jedi while sniffling unashamedly during the brother/sister revelation scene. I went off to college and she decided not to for the time being. The letters never stopped, even when my address changed from a mailbox to a PO box.

 As of Friday, I just finished my fifth semester of college. Looking back, especially at my diary entries during the past five months, it was one of the hardest five months of my life. One of the girls in my house has been suffering from a mental illness and made life miserable for me with her nearly constant shrieking, temper tantrums, and slamming doors. I struggled to keep up with my classes. I experienced panic attacks, vicious nightmares, and inexplicable pain in various parts of my body. There were many, many dark days when I wondered why I bothered to get out of bed, or if anything I did made a difference to anyone. 

 Being at home, in a quiet, non-stressful environment, has given me more time to reflect on this past semester. In my psychology class (which I passed only thanks to the grace of God and some St. Jude novenas) we learned about something called the self-fulfilling prophecy. Basically, it means that if you believe something is going to happen, or if a certain person is going to act in a certain way, you yourself act in a way that makes your prediction actually come true.

Say, for example, that you think no one listens to you when you talk. If you truly believe this, then you aren’t going to even bother to raise your voice when you’re in a group of people—what’s the point if nobody is going to listen to you anyway? So you don’t say anything, and as a result, no one talks to you or pays you much attention because you’re so quiet. You end up reinforcing what you believed in the first place: that no one listens to you, or, for the matter, cares about you. 

Someone is always taller...
  I keep having a recurring dream where I’m alone with various different men, all of whom I don’t know very well. In this dream, one of these men will be doing something personal with me, such as dancing with me, eating a meal that I made, or holding my hand. While they do this, all I can think of is that I’m somehow doing something wrong, and if I don’t fix it, they will get up and leave. 

 Then somehow, always, my visual perspective shifts and I see myself as I imagine these men see me. I shudder in horror. They would never want me! I find myself thinking. They’ve just been holding my hand/dancing with me/eating with me to be nice. They don’t really mean it. And every single time, each guy turns and leaves without a word, even if I yell after him to explain to me what I did wrong. They never answer.  

The self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe that they don’t care, they walk away, and I become more convinced than ever that I was right all along.

I got another letter from my pen pal yesterday, along with a box of homemade cookies and neatly wrapped Christmas presents. Towards the end of the letter, she mentioned how one of the things that has made us stay friends for so long is our appreciation of genuine, authentic people and our intolerance for the shallow, temporary, “hanging out” acquaintances that we both have had enough of. I think anyone in their right mind would say to themselves “Of course I’m an authentic and genuine person!” But are you really? 

 To me, being an authentic and genuine human being is living the golden rule. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. At the risk of sounding like an embittered snob, I will say that I’ve met very few people at college who embody this virtue. College makes people selfish, petty, and obsessed with minutia. You are accountable to no one and responsible for no one. No one tells you how to use your time. No one forces you to finish your 500 pages of reading. No one tells you that you have to be nice and include everybody. It’s a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world where all that matters is you, your schedule, and your needs.

I don’t think any college students do this intentionally. It just kind of happens. But that doesn’t make it OK. 

 In less than two weeks, I will be getting on a plane and flying to Florence for the entire month of January. I will be away from my college campus and all the people I know there for an entire month. The pessimistic side of me wants to think that nothing will have changed when I get back; the screaming and slamming doors in my house, the stress, the apparent indifference of everyone around me. I am praying about whether I should move out of my house for the rest of the semester and whether or not I should live at home next year instead of on campus. I have become frustrated and discouraged with college and the people I’ve met there. I feel betrayed and angry in many of my friendships. I wonder what God is trying to teach me through all of this suffering. 

I’m trying not to succumb to the self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s hard not to when everything I do seems to be ignored or misinterpreted, either intentionally or unintentionally. There’s only so much the human heart can take. Little things just add up. Someone doesn’t return your “hello.” A guy spends your entire coffee date talking about himself and never asks how you feel. A teacher writes some less-than-charitable comments on the paper you worked so hard on. You start making connections and correlations that don’t really exist. The little voices in your head start whispering, then chanting, then screaming He doesn’t like you. She doesn’t care about you. No one cares about you.  

I hope that my trip to Italy, seeing all the new sights, experiencing a new culture, and praying in all the gorgeous churches will give me some of the answers I am seeking. It seems that time heals all wounds.

As a famous man named Steve McGarrett once said, “You start from right now, wiser. You live for today and for what comes next. You bury the dead and you move on.”

Merry Christmas. Until February, Aloha. 

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