Bright college years
Andrew Miller | Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Life as the senior class knows it ends at graduation this upcoming May.
Just as the words of the unofficial Yale alma mater state, we’re living in the “shortest, gladdest years of life” right now. Well, if these four years of college are the best we’ll ever have in our lives than can we possibly look forward to anything after graduation? I don’t think we can.
Let’s look at the various aspects of the eras that face us in the future and how each of these different ages will fail to satisfy us.
The biggest shock after college: you have to get a job. I’m trying to resist this necessity as much as possible but I realize I need to be able to afford the lifestyle to which I’ve grown accustomed. I can’t ever see myself being able to put in an 80-hour workweek, and hopefully I’ll never have to. But it could be that way. Unfortunately.
Ostensibly children, marriage, and the work-a-day life continue to dominate the environments of the people our parents’ age. Paying bills? Paying taxes? It’s not a money issue – it’s a writing issue. I’ve seen that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry cripples his hand signing those Japanese checks. That health risk, along with increased potential for heart and prostate issues, make Middle Age the least appealing age.
I have nothing but respect for senior citizens. But in the past month, I have had two exceedingly awkward encounters with elderly women. I have to relate these occurrences to you, reader, because otherwise my point will be dulled by lack of specificity.
The first happened at the Krispy Kreme in Mishawaka. I was trying to order a dozen hot donuts on a Saturday morning and this woman approaches me outside the range of my peripheral vision. She sidled up to me without me ever noticing her. Without introducing herself, she grabs my arm (scares me to death) and says, “I was going to go to Arby’s but then I saw that red sign on so I decided to come get a free doughnut.” Two things. One: why did I not know about this free doughnut policy? Two: what gave this woman the right to sneak up behind me, grab my arm, and talk to me?
The second instance occurred at my local polling place this past week. I was voting absentee-in-person on Monday afternoon and waited quietly for my name to be called up to the voting booth. An older woman sat down next to me and I said hello with a polite head nod, figuring that our conversation would end there. A few silent minutes later, the woman turned to me and said, “You never know who you’re going to sit next to!” I couldn’t tell if this meant I was supposed to recognize her, if she was trying to figure out if I were famous or not, or if she was indicating that she was seconds away from doing something shocking. I didn’t respond, deathly afraid of my seatmate. Then she said, “Too bad I’ve been eating onions all morning,” and proceeded to cackle for several more minutes. Thank goodness I was called to vote shortly thereafter.
These women were not unjustified in talking to me but I cannot figure out why senior citizens feel the need to talk to strangers in such fashions. I do not look forward to a day when I will want to talk to as many random people as possible. I can barely muster up the strength to talk to my closest friends. I won’t be able to survive in a world where it’s expected you’ll speak with unknown people in lines at fast food restaurants, waiting rooms, and offices.
Most people would stop their age divisions at the senior citizen level. But in my experience this does not speak to the actualities of our dynamic population. I mean, you can join the AARP at 50 and hold that membership seemingly indefinitely (as long as you pay those darn dues). We need to come to a higher understanding of old age in this country: an understanding that will include less generalization of older peoples. With increasing life expectancies in many sectors of the US population, there should be a last phase of life that runs from the age of 85 until death.
And actually, I look forward to this point in my life. I’ll be too old to be a senior citizen, too young to be dead. I’ll be just senile enough to be as inappropriate and offensive as I desire. If anyone is hurt by my comments I can blame senility in the purest and most beautiful form of deniability in existence. Nobody gets mad at the quirky old guy. But on top of this freedom comes the actual hardship of actually being senile. We can romanticize the loss of one’s intellectual capacities with envious eyes, but we have to take a step back to understand that the inherent condition of using your senility for humor is wholly and truly being senile. And I don’t actually ever want to be senile. Do you? I think not.
So now I’ve deconstructed each of the periods of life after we leave this hallowed ground. And every last one of them has the appeal of getting hit by a freight train. I don’t have any solutions or optimistic advice. I agree with Yale. These bright college years will never be matched. Ever. Sorry.
Andrew Miller is a senior English major. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.