Voyage Into the Abyss
The smoke detector incessantly beeps to the patterns of my REM cycle—sporadic and offbeat. For the first few nights my nerves were frayed from the jolts. It was right next to my bed christening my new room, making its stake on the territory. The only one out of the three in the apartment. Unscrew. Still beeping. Turning off all electricity in my room for a night or two turned out to be the solution.
While the smoke detector resulted in a few nights of sleeplessness, it was by no means the worst thing to happen. The next morning I chugged my overly strong coffee and reminded myself that this was part of the process of growing up and living in an apartment—a mini-voyage, if you will.
My college experience has, in essence, been boiled down to a series of voyages. There is the voyage of the menial, yet important stuff that you have to eventually figure out in college. Grocery shopping, for instance. Can I survive off of the three eggs, frozen fruit, and oat milk in my fridge until Friday, when the midterms have passed and some stress has washed over for a moment? Turns out I can.
Then, there is the academic-and-career-questioning-voyage. Will I make money as an English major? Am I really into my social sciences major or would I be happier in the humanities? Is economics something I ought to take? Should I have been pre-med? (No. This one only lasted about a few days—I am far too squeamish). Is consulting going to be my default option post-grad? There are no clear answers. It lies within the murkiness of my future.
We are expected to get it together. “So what do you want to do after graduation?” I was asked as a bright-eyed first year. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” A professor asked more recently. The answer is consistently ambiguous. A slim, diplomatic dance of “well, we shall see… not sure,” or even better, “hmm good question…” has slipped out of my mouth a few times. But the issue I have is that we are never given the possibility to not know. It is either you know or you are lost. Why do we have to know everything right now? That’s why we are here and nestled on this hill.
How do you know the answers when you are the only one who can provide them? Is it an inkling in the dark pits of the abdomen, a nudge at the gut, a squeaking voice that pries at the prefrontal cortex? How do we know that we have made the right decisions, or do we only know when it is too late to turn back? When we are locked into lives we no longer want and yearn for the years of unbridled choice. When we are so young but have so many opinions, ideas, and thoughts. When we are partially molded but still have an axe for chiseling left.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts with a friend and gazed at the marble figurines: poised and polished. To be frank, I couldn’t tell you the artist or the historical context, but anything sculpted with that much detail evidently takes time. A finished product of beauty is a voyage. While humans are far more complex than slabs of marble, it is indicative of the time we ought to invest in ourselves, our wants, and our needs.
It was in my full year of remote learning where I forced myself to ask, reflect, and interrogate my thoughts on what I wanted out of this college experience. This was not easy. It meant being honest with myself. Tricking myself was easier than facing facts or reckoning with my future.
In our lives, we have some answers but we don’t have them all—how can we? We need the freedom for exploration and breathing space to fall. We need to understand our mistakes and be able to pivot, backtrack, and reflect on how we are going to realign our focus, aspirations, and expectations for ourselves. College can feel like a bubble of construction. There are moments when I feel like a sham of an adult—not yet immersed in the full fabrics of “the real world” but also living in an apartment secured by negotiations with my landlord. These four years can feel like a limbo, an intermediary, or a bridge, but still a balance and calm before the full throttle storm come graduation. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was a bit scared of what this storm will look like.
In college, and most of life, my biggest moments of growth have hurt the worst. The severing of unhealthy relationships. The loss of a friend. Harsh love. The kind that rips out the arteries and ties them into a thousand knots. I have a love/hate relationship with this voyage.
It is a solitary charade. A passing moment of stillness with the flash of faces. A hi and a bye from those on crossroads. The thing about voyages is that they can be exciting, but they are also no stranger to loneliness.
You don’t see land until you are close to a dock—I hesitate to say “a destination.” We oftentimes end up in places we never expected to be. In the end we can’t control our destiny, though it may be a comfort to create mood boards and career collages of cut magazine pages.
But the truth is, I don’t know where I’ll be, who I’ll be with, and how. None of us do. This is scary. I’m a serial planner. Color-coded, detail-oriented, a sticky note-user. So one thing that awakens my anxiety is the prospect of anything unknown, anything out of my hands.
But maybe we have to move forth through the abyss, the snow, sleet, and storm of our many individual voyages in confidence. Maybe there is never a destination on our voyages. Rather, our voyages are a search for space and place in the world, a way to sail our own ships while knowing that oftentimes the wind gust is out of our hands. A space where we can lay the mat of our labors and sit on the mount of our accomplishments.
So we drift. Drifting is not laziness, but sometimes it’s all that there is to do. Sometimes we need to let go of the ship’s wheel because even if we try to wane and wrangle, gravity and buoyancy never stops. The waves will lead us homeward bound.