Thursday, August 26, 2010

The School of Life

During the years we lived in D.C., I forgot about the cycle of the school year. The anticipation, in August, of a new year. The joy of getting fresh school supplies, pencils that hadn't yet been used, notebooks that weren't yet marred. The anticipation, again, in May of being set free for a summer. The thrill of the final bell on the last day of school. We didn't live particularly close to a school in D.C. or know people with kids. We rode public transportation almost exclusively, so we didn't get stuck behind school buses. And though it is full of colleges and universities, D.C. is no college town. The influx of students was not noticeable in a city that always seemed pack, and the fact that so many students came to D.C. each summer for internships and summer jobs meant that, really, numbers did not change that much. The bars in Foggy Bottom and the shops in Georgetown were packed regardless of what the calendar read.

But here in Durham, the school year imposes itself on you. In the morning, the brakes of the school bus, which picks up the girl right across the street, act as a sort of time piece. If I look out the window, I see parents walking their kids to our neighborhood school. I love that. That we have a neighborhood school and that kids still walk to it, lunch boxes swinging in their hands, backpacks bouncing with each step. On Monday, Duke freshmen arrived. Their older counterparts will join them next week. The track around the East Campus is full now whenever I drive by, girls with bodies they don't know they should be thankful for and boys wanting people to look at them as they run without shirts now outnumbering moms with jogging strollers. Next week Ninth Street will grow more crowded. It will be harder to get a seat at the Federal or the James Joyce. The line at Chipotle will be long no matter what time of day you go.

I've seen the freshmen already. They're instantly identifiable. They still have their room keys and IDs on the lanyards Duke gave them, and they wear them around their necks or twirl them around their index fingers. They wear Duke t-shirts everywhere. They move in packs, with no idea yet of who their friends will be, who they will still be hanging out with next summer, next year, on graduation day. They look young. But I guess, compared to me, they are. As we walked past a pack of the freshmen last night on our way into the Bulls game, I thought back to my own Orientation Week, when we went to the Astros game, and I realized that it was eleven years ago.

That realization took my breath away. "Eleven years," I said to Jeff, not just once, but twice, three times. Eleven years. More than a third of my lifetime.  It doesn't feel that long ago, not really, and I don't know why. I don't know if it's because that's just the way life is, that we can never quite believe how quickly it passes us by, or because I still sometimes feel like a freshman, it not at college at least at life, uncertain of what it is I want to do or how to get there.

Though technically this school year has nothing to do with me--I'm not taking classes or working at a school--I've decided to embrace it. I've decided to look at those freshmen at Duke, to look at the elementary neighborhood kids on their way to school and to see myself. I've decided to take the time to remember what it is I wanted and hoped for way back when I was starting first grade, six grade, high school, college, and to brush off those goals that I had then that I still care about and to say a resolute goodbye to those that no longer interest me but that I have for whatever reason clung to. I'm going to ask myself what it is I want to learn this year, who it is I want to hang out with this year, in what ways I want to grow this year. Then I'm going to set myself some goals and go after them--even if my pencil has already been worn down to a nub and my notebook is already a good bit full.