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The purpose of the gray

Adam Cahill | Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I’m in a rut. The more that I try to talk myself out of it the more I can’t deny that it is true. The weekends run together, punctuated by parties that can be considered close to being at a meat-packing plant. Shoulder to shoulder and crammed into small apartments, the level of enlightenment after four years of those parties is next to none. Going to class day after day mixes into a gray blur until I can’t distinguish one day from the next.The only way my memory can determine the days is by the severity of the wind and how hard I have to try in order to stay upright on my way to class. Even the comfort of concentrating on the same gray sidewalk each day in hopes of gaining relief from the wind has lost its appeal. It seems like months ago I was on the sunny beaches of Mexico where my only concern was the type of drink I was going to order and the sunburn on my shoulders. Now my only concern is the next paper and the cumbersome research that comes along with it.The computer screen in front of me has been white for the past hour and a half and the fingernails that have thoroughly scraped through the skin on my scalp keep plugging away as I try to make sense of the 12-page paper that is no closer to being done. The only thing that can be seen on the screen is my name and the date. My eyes are bloodshot and the caffeine is starting to run low. The paper is due in less than 12 hours and my name is a less than compelling response to the question the professor gave us to answer.Around the lab, I hear others typing away in front of full pages of black letters against the backdrop of a white word processing program. The sound of the keys being punched radiates through my head like bullets whizzing about in an attempt to drive me insane. So I throw on the headphones and listen to the somber resonance of “Nature’s Wonders” in an effort to relax and clear my head.I try to concentrate on the task at hand but it is impossible to think of anything related to the subject. The 12 pages aren’t writing themselves and the sentences, paragraphs and pages that I happened to put off until the day before the paper’s due date aren’t coming as expected. I read over the prompt for the hundredth time as if this time knowledge was going to come to me like an epiphany from heaven. No epiphany comes, however, and I end up taking solace in the only thing that keeps me company in such dire straits – internet solitaire.I finish my 13th game of solitaire in a row and try to rationalize the importance of the paper. Will it cure a deadly disease? Will it put an end to world hunger? Will it even help me in my future profession? Will it do anything besides help me pad my resume for the job search after graduation? To my dismay, I can’t answer a truthful “yes” to any of my own questions and my motivations fall into an even deeper abyss. The only consolation I can find for the mental anguish of doing useless papers is that they will tutor me in the art of doing something you don’t have any interest in doing. That can only mean one thing – preparation for the real world.Although the epiphany that I was hoping for didn’t come through in the form of 12 written pages, it comes nonetheless in the form of a reason to do the paper. All of the seemingly pointless assignments that have rained down on my parade in the past four years were in preparation for the real world, but not in the sense of the subject that the papers were designed. The papers and assignments help prepare us for the real world because the real world isn’t bright blue skies and cloudless days.It isn’t the most interesting project that you’ve worked on every time out. It’s the monotonous days of gray that South Bend gets you so accustomed to and the long hours of work that come with the job. There will be great times just like there are great times at school, but the majority of the real world is the sweat that you pour into the glass of your vocation.As I type the thesis statement onto the screen in front of me, I finally have a reason to write the words. And with the words comes the meaning, and with the meaning comes the purpose of all the gray days in South Bend.

Adam Cahill is a senior history and American studies major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at acahill@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.