Saturday, August 16, 2008

Endings & Beginnings

I am in England, oddly aware that this may be the last time I come for a while after 9 years of going back and forth relatively regularly to follow up different aspects of my PhD, which I have now come to polish off once and for all. While occupied by the thought that this rather long chapter in my academic career is coming to an end, I check myself into the dorm room that the my department has booked for me for my week’s stay on campus. As I walk in, it dawns on me – I am in a dorm again, in a single room on a floor with shared communal bathrooms. The last time I lived in such circumstances was at the very beginning of my university academic career, as a Freshman, exactly 20 years ago. My endings are mirroring the beginnings…

I make my way through a relatively quiet floor on a Sunday afternoon, and I notice that there are a few tangible differences. Mainly, there is no knot in my stomache at the anticipation of meeting any of my floor mates. I am quite certain that I’m a few years older, have been working for as long as they’ve been reading, and am centered by a sense that I can swallow them up with one gulp. What an interesting concept! Guess there are some advantages to age.

I suppose some of the other differences have been around for a while, but this ending vs. beginning contrast that the dorm launched helped me recognize them. For example, I no longer weigh out overall cost as I glean over the titillating book titles at the bookstore, being able to support my long-held belief that books are priceless with an account that can actually afford them. Alternatively, I am also no longer as easily enticed by titles and books that I feel will no longer add much more to others I have acquired, absorbed and used over the years. This is not a reflection of feeble indifference to “There is nothing left for me to learn”, quite the contrary; I find I am now more specific in my search to add to what I already know, rather than confirm it. This feeds into another discovery made recently, that my main concepts and outlook on life, no matter how idealistic, are still the same as the ones I formed when I was a young undergraduate. And if I were to be perfectly honest, I would admit that those are the concepts and outlooks that I would like to return to as fully as I was committed to back then, before the tosses and turns of life temporarily beat them out of me.

And finally, there is one part of this ending that mirrors the beginnings, though this one clearly has more to do with age than any academic journey per se: not unlike some of my restlessness as a late teen college student, I am somewhat disillusioned by what I see in the world around me. Whereas I certainly know more and have done more by now than at that point, the similarity is that I still feel things could be done differently. And no different than my state of mind 20 years ago, I’m raring to get out there and find out: how?

Have come full circle to an ending that is really just a beginning…

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