The Dawning of a New Era

 This path may be straight, but most aren't.

This path may be straight, but most aren't.

For the first time since 1998, autumn approaches, and, despite department stores' ceaseless efforts to remind everyone of their "Back to School" deals, I will not be among the droves of students returning to the hallowed halls of learning all across the country. And, you know, if that isn't something.

You — and here I'm using "you" in the collective sense, with the ignorant assumption that most other people I know will have taken or are on the same educational path as myself (but is it still an ignorant assumption when I acknowledge the potential ignorance?) — start school only a year or two into your I'm-old-enough-to-form-memories life, say three or four years old, and for at least the next twelve or thirteen years, until you're legally able to drop out of school at the age of sixteen (is it sixteen?) if you so desire, each fall you settle in for another 180 days of wisdom-imparting teachers, textbooks with astronomical price tags that you are blithely unaware of (until college, that is), and day-to-day interactions with your contemporaries, who may or may not annoy the crap out of you, or, on the bright side, become some of the most important people in your life. (<---- Holy cow, what a sentence, am I right?)

If you finish high school and go on to an institution of higher learning, and graduate after four years at the ripe age of 22, such as I have done, then you will have spent 81.8% of every fall, winter, and spring of your life up to that point in a classroom. Astonishing, I know. 

So I've done that. I've been there. And now the fat lady has sung. The curtains have closed. The era of institutional education is over. And, as with the consummation of any significant event or act, I can sit and reflect, think about all the effort put in (and the shortcuts sought); the people who lent a hand (and those who stuck out a foot, hoping I would trip); and all the things I learned (or memorized for a test and completely forgot about the following week). 

I went to a private Catholic school from preschool through 12th grade, and along with the words "private" and "Catholic," the adjectives "snooty" and "pretentious" might come to your mind, dear reader. But that's not exactly how it was. Maybe some felt that way, but for me Manistee Catholic Central lived up to what it professes itself to be: a tight-knit family. Whilst in high school, it sure did seem like all the other area schools had it out for us. They might have liked beating each other up in arenas academically and athletically, but you didn't want to lose to the kids from Catholic. They had to be beaten down, trampled upon, left to drown in a puddle of their self-righteousness.

Realize, I laugh while typing this. Sometimes it did feel like an "Us Against the World" kind of thing, but I'm making it out to be a monster that it wasn't, and isn't. 

Let's turn the page on that subject, anyway. Life at Manistee Catholic. There's a topic. Yes, religion is a heavy part of it. But so too were any of the typical goings-on of high schools from here to Timbuktu: the so-called "cliques" (however, with a more fluid quality); sometimes jocks picking on the less athletically-inclined; seniors claiming their seniority over underclassmen; and so on. What am I trying to say right now, though? I don't have to prove that life at a private school was anything less than normal. We just had a small enrollment, a family-type atmosphere, and a shorter bench in athletic contests than would have been desired. There were dickheads and sweethearts; bookworms and straight C-students; people who cared and people who didn't. 

I spent all that time there and I don't regret it. Because I owe part of who I am to that place and those people. I graduated with twelve others in 2012 — we were that class that finished first grade in 2001, second grade in 2002, and so on (the cool class, in other words) — and I went on to a place drastically different: the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with an enrollment of 40,000+. And I can try to sum up how that university changed me, helped me grow and such, but I may not be able to put it down just right. 

I think one of the most significant transformations I've undergone has to do with those religious aspects I mentioned earlier. In elementary and middle and high school, I was never the most religious person. One might say that I was always more or less going through the motions, always participating but perhaps with a heart that was not in it. Some friends would say they felt overjoyed and filled with the spirit at times, but it never came that way to me. God never spoke to me like that.

And now, having just wrapped up my collegiate career, I feel even more removed from that sense. I have reservations over what the Catholic Church believes; namely, that marriage is meant for only man and woman, that abortion is never the answer (rape victims?), that sex is meant only for those who have entered into the sacrament of matrimony (yes, I have a six-year-old son, "ha-ha").

Perhaps the most difficult thing for me to swallow, though, is that Catholicism professes itself "the truth," and all others are heading down stray paths, in need of the light of that "truth." My philosophy is becoming, more and more, that people ought to believe whatever they want, as long as their moral compass works properly (i.e. they have a basic sense of right and wrong), as long as it helps them get through each day, and as long as it doesn't create cognitive dissonance within themselves to a point where they feel worthless. That's all. No organized religion has a copyright on "the truth" (how's that metaphor? Could be better, I agree). And as such, they can't claim that other organized religions are wrong. 

Okay. All right. Okay. This is a train derailing at half-speed. Such are the workings of the human mind, I suppose. What else did I learn at Michigan? Lots of stuff about psychology (did you notice that psychological term in the last paragraph?), history, writing, culture, film; but also that I, as a white man, have privileges and don't need to think about, if I don't want to, certain issues that affect other segments of the population. Don't worry, I'm not about to go off on another tangent; that just seemed worth mentioning. Kudos to you if you've even read this far actually. Let me just end that subject with a simple statement: race relations in the United States? Yikes. (But Ellen DeGeneres? Really?)

Are we in need of a dynamic closing? I should think so, because I am doing that thing where I get wordy and my peer editors will descend like hawks, writing things in the margin like "maybe try to cut this down?" and "you can't start a sentence with 'and'" (to which I say, I will write a sentence beginning with "and" if I damn well please; I love my conjunction-ed sentences).

If 18 years of education has taught me anything (other than the boring, self-evident ditties I could heretofore mention), it is that I am an indecisive, sometimes-too-judgmental, will-get-that-assignment-done-at-the-last-second, overthinking, avoidant, half-heartedly religious, non-committal, friendly-when-I-want-to-be, emotionally-unreadable, ever-second-guessing, not-all-that-exciting-when-sober, sometimes-dickish, sentimental, probably-worse-than-your-average-friend (a simple "happy birthday" will do, right?), most-of-the-time-passionate wordsmith who loves using semi-colons and dashes and parenthetical statements and sentences that begin with "and" and writing reflectively because it requires no research and allows me to say what should be said (maybe?) but that I oftentimes do not spew from my mouth in an audible mode of communication. 

I don't know how that was for an ending, but know this, dear reader: it is the dawning of a new era in my life, and good grief I should have planned ahead of time. 

-LTH