“We all dream, when we’re younger, / That we will do great things.” Alison Krauss, “Never Got Off the Ground” (Get this song with iTunes)
I was listening to this song earlier. It always reminds me that I left for college with rockstar dreams of getting a music degree. I wanted to be famous, to change the world with my music. College deeply challenged and remolded everything I believed, and I eventually switched to a philosophy degree with a minor in art history. I was again going to change the world, reviving Thomism and establishing that a theology of beauty is as important as truth and goodness.
If when we’re younger we dream of doing great things, when we’re older we dream of what we might do differently if we had the chance. I dream of how I would help my younger self if I could book a flight on a time machine. Ironically, there is nothing I would teach myself, because I still haven’t learned it. I would try to guide myself, at a very critical point, to make better decisions.
Everyone hates middle school. Unless you were a jock, middle school or junior high school was perhaps the most difficult time of your development from child to adult. (By the way, if you were a jock, I still hate you for picking me last. Now go away, or I will eat your multi-million dollar project with a very mean computer virus.) Here is my story.
I literally feared going to school during middle school. My anxiety about being ridiculed by my peers probably originated somewhere in elementary school, but in middle school it grew out of control. Eventually, my parents pulled me out of school and homeschooled me for a few years. During this time, when I was fearing my classmates and especially afterwards studying alone at home, I missed out on a very important lesson.
I call it, “The Rules of The Game.” If I were less cynical, I would have perhaps decided to call it, “The Steps to The Dance,” which would be more appropriately romantic since we’re talking about love. Well, bosh on that. In either case, I didn’t learn something essential and necessary to the ritual, while most of my peers apparently did. Or, at least they learned enough to get by.
My hack sociological hypothesis is this: In middle school, everyone fumbles around like fish on a pier, eventually learning The Rules or The Steps by trial and error. During this time, everyone is learning with everyone else. Once this stage is mastered, no one takes the time to pass along The Rules. As adults, when someone comes along who obviously doesn’t play by The Rules, they are put in the penalty box.
When I look back, I don’t really care much that I’m not a rockstar. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not changing the philosophical and theological world with my blithering logic. It doesn’t even bother me so much that after nine years of floundering about at jobs that require little more than a high school education I’ve joined the Navy at age thirty because it is the only job that can pay for the philosophy degree I bought on government-subsidized credit.
What bothers me the most is that I’m still without a bride at 31. When you’re younger you dream that you will do great things. You also believe that you’re so wonderful that someone will throw themselves at you eventually; love is something that just happens, not something that you work to create. This delusion I would squash in myself early, if I had the chance.
But I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of teaching myself The Rules.
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