Opinions, Column

Whatever You Live Will Be Life

In the spring of 2020, a few months before I was an official Boston College student in the Class of 2024, I was a disenchanted high school senior with no idea of what the future might hold. I was perpetually tired, perennially anxious, and in desperate need of direction. 

I couldn’t wait to springboard into the next chapter of my life, but I was terrified that I might end up in a meaningless free-fall. Once I committed to BC and begrudgingly sat through my virtual high school graduation, I thought I was done with this feeling for good. I was wrong.

Flash forward four years, and here I am again—less tired but still anxious and unsure of what the future holds. My experience at BC has been so wonderful and fulfilling that I’ve found myself more and more terrified of what will happen once my graduation cap lands on the ground and the last moving box is taped up. 

Life as a BC senior is much more exciting than life as a high school senior, but the future is proportionally more scary. Some nights you’re standing on the coffee table belting out “Mr. Brightside” with your roommates, and some nights you’re alone in your twin XL thinking about when will be the last time you sing that song as a BC student. 

Some things about post-graduate life are givens—I’ll go home, I’ll move to New York, start working, and hopefully save up so I can retire when I’m 65. But everything else that’s going to happen along the way—all the little things that fill up our lives with meaning, suffering, purpose, and love—what those things will be, I cannot know.

When I find myself feeling this way, petrified of the unknown, I ground myself by returning to the writing that has helped me make sense of the senseless in the past. Sometimes this means sifting through Grace Christensen’s Heights columns. My personal favorites are “Eel Sex and Other Unanswered Questions” and “Goodbye and a Guy Named Steve.” 

When I first read these two columns, I was still an editor for The Heights, and they remind me not only of what a strong and poetic voice sounds like, but how I have developed my own voice in these past four years. As I write this column, I hope that I can achieve even an ounce of what Christensen did in her writing.

Other times, the works I turn to are more tangible books off the shelf. A personal favorite is All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. While this book is full of “quotable quotes” (if that’s even a real thing, by my account all quotes are “quotable” if you quote them), my favorite is quite hefty, but worth the read:

“Which is nonsense, for whatever you live is Life. That is something to remember when you meet the old classmate who says, “Well now, on our last expedition up the Congo-” or the one who says, “Gee, I got the sweetest little wife and three of the swellest kids ever-” You must remember it when you sit in hotel lobbies or lean over bars to talk to the bartender or walk down a dark street at night, in early March, and stare into a lighted window. And remember little Susie has adenoids and the bread is probably burned, and turn up the street, for the time has come to hand me down that walking cane, for I got to catch that midnight train, for all my sin is taken away. For whatever you live is life”

When I first read this paragraph, I was still that high school senior reluctantly completing my AP Literature homework. It felt like my life was disintegrating before me, losing its meaning by the second, and suddenly the words of a political novelist writing in 1946 turned my world upside down. 

What I was feeling was a kind of nonsense, for whatever you live is Life. Even if things changed drastically and I was no longer sure about anything at all, everyday I woke up and pushed through another day, because what I was living was Life.

There’s so much pressure to embark in a new phase of your life with vigor, excitement, and romanticism. There’s so much pressure to be everything, to be everywhere, and to be confident in all of it. To be the “old classmate” who has thrilling post-graduate stories to tell and a happy family to boot. To have a dazzling LinkedIn and a glamorous Instagram, to “lean over bars to talk to the bartender,” and catch that midnight train going anywhere. But life doesn’t really work like that. 

In reality, sometimes you burn your toast, innocent kids get sick, and you walk home alone at night. But on good days and bad, whatever you live is Life. When I’m crossing that stage in a few weeks and the sun is shining down on a graduating class prepared ever to excel, I’m going to remind myself that whatever I choose to live, it will be Life. And whatever you choose to live will be Life too.

April 28, 2024