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Don’t cook the goose just yet

| Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Picture this: You’re me. You’re driving down I-75, en route to South Bend, Indiana for your senior year of college. The Kentucky sun is shining. Phoebe Bridgers just came on shuffle. A Dunkin’ caramel iced latte courses through your veins. Life is good.

But fate has other plans. To your right, a goose — yes, a goose — flies alongside traffic, coasting maybe fifteen feet above the bustling interstate.

It’s so cute that you gasp in awe, audibly, as if you just saw a golden retriever puppy or a Kia Soul. “Look at him fly!” you think. “Oh my god, he’s migrating north with me,” you think. “That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” you think.

But before you have time to think about how the geese migrated north about three months ago, the goose divebombs into traffic. You scream. Tires screech. Feathers fly in all directions as he collides with the windshield of a car ahead of you. He bounces off the glass and, in a moment of abject horror, you realize the flurry of feathers is hurtling straight towards you.

“This is it,” you think. “This is how I’m gonna die.”

But all is well. Before you even have a chance to slam on your brakes, the goose catches itself in midair, flies away. You pull into a gas station parking lot to catch your breath. You tweet about it.

And picture this: You’re still me. You survived the eight-hour drive to Catholic Disneyland, despite the militant efforts of a certain daredevil goose. As you open the trunk to grab your bags, you notice your belongings are coated in a suspicious purple goo. Turns out your purple shampoo — which you’ve had to use ever since you dyed your hair a beautiful shade of blonde — leaked en route to South Bend, and now every item you’ve ever cherished is purple and sticky.

You consider crying, but quickly pull yourself together. You haul your things into your apartment, leaving dots of purple like bread crumbs on the ground behind you. You try to wash the shampoo off, but it’s shampoo, so it just makes bubbles. You think you may never be happy again.

But all is well. Time heals all wounds. The shampoo comes off, and your belongings are colors other than purple again. The only remaining hint of tragedy is the faint smell of sulfate-free shampoo lingering on your collar. You tweet about it.

And as the day ended, as I reflected upon the brutal hellscape that was Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, I could only think one thing:

“Man, this semester is gonna suck.”

Obviously, the wild goose and the spilled shampoo were foreshadowing my imminent downfall. The world was trying to tell me something that day: that my semester was doomed. Cursed. Finished before it even started. Maybe it was divine intervention. Are you there, God? It’s me, attempted-goose-homicide victim.

But obviously, this mindset is completely illogical — foreshadowing is a literary device, not a fact of reality. One minor inconvenience in the present doesn’t signify a doomed future. My goose attack wasn’t a signal of impending catastrophe; it was just a freak accident involving a very incompetent goose. 

But still, the mindset persists in all of us — we cling to the bad, convinced more bad will come with it. Things go wrong, and we convince ourselves things will be wrong forever. And can you blame us? We’re the same species that created horoscopes, tarot cards and hot girl summer — cultural constructions that tell us what’s going to happen before it actually happens. We’re obsessed with predictions, even predictions of disaster.

And when I think about my own experience with this sort of compulsive hopelessness, I can’t help but think back to my freshman year of college. To put it simply, I was struggling — I felt lost. I felt alone. I felt useless. And, as humans do, I convinced myself that these feelings were permanent, that these bad feelings in the present predicted nothing but bad feelings in the future. Not even a full week into my first semester, I had already declared my college experience a disaster.

But eventually — although not immediately — those feelings went away. I found my people, my places and my programs. I found my home at Notre Dame. It just took some time.

So, as a senior, I’m using the ounce of authority I have to give current freshmen this piece of advice: Don’t give up on this semester before it’s even started. Times might be tough now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be tough. Don’t give up on this semester, even if it seems sucky now. Don’t give up on that calculus class with the ruthless professor, even if it seems impossible now. Don‘t give up on that group of classmates you’ve been wanting to befriend, even if it seems improbable now.

And most importantly: Don’t give up on Notre Dame, even if it all feels wrong right now. I don’t think any amount of prior knowledge can prepare you for just how difficult the first few weeks of college really are. We all felt it at one point. We felt scared. We felt overwhelmed. We felt lonely.

These feelings and experiences are normal — but they’re not permanent, and they’re certainly not foreshadowing some calamity. Sometimes a goose is just a goose, and sometimes a bad week is just a bad week.

Believe me: There are better weeks ahead.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer, and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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