It’s the weirdest feeling to unearth something from a different time, from a different you, and feel it reverberate throughout your entire being. I’m finally trying to take unpacking from my final year at Oberlin seriously (which is ironic, seeing as I’ll be moving back to Oberlin in the fall), and I picked up an innocent-enough green bag. There were a lot of notebooks in there. One in particular jumped out at me. It’s an Ormond Series exercise book I bought in Ireland because they were selling a dozen for 2 euro. They aren’t the most sturdy things in the universe, which is why I noticed this one in particular. Its cover was fresh and unwrinkled, its stapled binding sturdy. I really liked using those notebooks. They were exactly enough paper for a semester of notes, so I got really excited, thinking I had a blank one left!
I opened it and it was full of memories. There’s a letter I started writing to a friend about how alone I felt in Ireland. I never sent the letter because less than a week later, I’d started making friends. There’s a list of things I wanted to do when I visited Dresden. Somehow I accomplished all of it. And then there’s the beginning planning stages of my thesis, the random Gaeilge notes I wrote in the margins about being nervous and missing Galway, random highlighted bits of a research schedule I abandoned pretty early on, a doodle of a whale about to eat a plankton, and then…written rather ominously in stark black letters alone on a page… “HONORS?”
That one word so wonderfully sums up what I remember of my first semester last year. When I saw it I kind of chuckled, thinking how far away it all seemed and how much I’ve grown since then. I was lonely and struggling to get to know my research. I felt inadequate and so far behind my peers it was laughable. I couldn’t seem to do anything right, except act childish. I couldn’t connect to anything…
“I’m glad that’s over,” I thought, but, just as I was putting those memories to rest in a box, I noticed some writing on the very last page.
SELF-MANTRA: IT’S OKAY
I am a self-confident, intelligent, capable senior with friends who put me first, who care about me, whose lives would be different and worse without me. I am writing an honors proposal because I am smart and people believe in me. One day I will not feel like a lone plankton floating in a sea of baleen whales. One day I will be proud of who I am and I won’t be crushed by this constant worry. One day people will be glad to see me. Until then I will be alone but proud of who I am. Until then I will cry in private and be strong in public because I CAN DO THIS.
All of a sudden, I remembered exactly when I wrote this. It was at the freshman orientation picnic-dinner in Wilder Bowl. I was sitting alone with my dinner. I thought the person I was supposed to meet hadn’t shown up, but then I saw that person sitting with a group of other people across the way. I was surrounded by smiling people–first years just meeting each other and figuring out who would be their friends in college, upperclassmen screaming and running towards each other for joyous reunions. It was like I was invisible. So I cried. I always cry.
While I’d completely forgotten about that particular day until now, for those of you who know me, you’ve probably heard me say any part of this mantra aloud on numerous occasions. The truth is, I’m no longer a senior writing an honors thesis. I’ve done that. But the truth is, I haven’t grown up all that much. I still feel invisible. I still feel like I’m floundering. Whenever I talk to someone about graduation, they seem a thousand times more well-adjusted about the change than myself. It’s like I’m losing at some game everyone thought I’d be good at. So, you see…I still need to tell myself these things, because I still don’t really believe them. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say for certain I do. I might always be that little tiny plankton that doesn’t fit in, but who says a plankton can’t have a whale for a friend? (Other than, like…all the rules of nature.) So…here’s my new mantra.
SELF-MANTRA: IT’S STILL OKAY
I am a self-confident, intelligent, capable graduate of Oberlin College with a bright future ahead of me. I graduated with high honors because I am smart and people believed in me enough to never stop caring, because I am worth it. One day I will have lots of whale friends who will keep all the krill from eating their plankton friend. One day I will be even more comfortable in my own skin, and this constant worry will vanish. One day I will change people’s lives.
I may have changed a lot since that lonely evening on the grass, or I may not have changed at all. Who knows, honestly. Just because I still need to remind myself that IT’S OKAY every once in a while, doesn’t mean I’m stuck in a rut. It just means I’m still on the journey, and, honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…