My friends and family say this is the year my life truly begins.
This year, I say goodbye to the emotionally challenging years of high school to embark on a new adventure. I’ll meet people who are, like me, ready to learn more, people who are open to new ideas and who are past all the high school drama. This year, I become accountable for my actions and responsible for myself.
As I walk through the old, familiar hallways of my high school, I feel incredibly nostalgic. Truth is, unlike a lot of people I know, I loved almost everything about this place. It was a moderate, uneventful part of my life—I wasn’t particularly sociable, nor did I experience any kind of intense love story that will remain in my memory until the end of time. I had a close group of friends who walked me through every obstacle and who’ve helped me grow up into the person I am, and I met inspiring and remarkable teachers who taught me how blissful life can be when you follow your passions.
Here, I laughed until my stomach hurt as my friends and I sat together between classes sharing stories of our favorite teachers embarrassing themselves in the most comical ways. I cried on the floor of the bathroom stalls when I couldn’t keep it in anymore, overwhelmed by the pressure I put on myself to maintain a record of perfect test scores or to be constantly fine, even when I wasn’t. I failed and I succeeded, I lost and I loved and I learned. Here, I felt protected, like no matter what happened out there in the world, nothing bad would get to me. Saying goodbye to something this meaningful caused a lot of painful sobs and heart-wrenching hugs. It was so hard; I kept thinking how truly lucky I was to have had an experience I never wanted to say goodbye to.
Once, when I was researching scientists for a Physics class project, I read about the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. I was instantly drawn to his famous hypothetical thought experiment, Schrödinger’s cat. Although I know virtually nothing about quantum mechanics, I couldn’t help thinking of this paradox as an analogy for my own future. So, Schrödinger puts a living cat inside a sealed box, where there’s also a small amount of a radioactive substance, a counter, and a bottle of poison. If the counter detects that the radioactive substance has decayed, this will trip a hammer that will cause the poison to be released and the cat to be killed.
However, it’s impossible for the observer to know if the substance has decayed or not without opening the box and therefore impossible to know whether the cat is alive or dead. Because we can’t know until we open the box—according to a theory of quantum mechanics that stated that a particle exists in all states until it is seen—the cat is both alive and dead. Schrödinger used this mind experiment to prove that this quantum mechanics interpretation was flawed. It seems impossible that a cat could be simultaneously alive and dead, but the point is, until we open the box, both outcomes are equally likely, and we remain in a state of uncertainty until we can confirm which outcome is real.
I’m in this in-between place. My future is sealed in a box and opening it will mean a definite result—either I’m able to achieve the aspirations I’ve set for my life or I’m not. Everyone around me is seeking answers, thrilled to find out if their hopes will become reality, to start exploring and to be free, but I’m not. I’m scared. What if I open the box and the cat is dead? What if there’s nothing out there, in the immensity that is the future, that will make me feel as hopeful and content as I’ve always dreamt of feeling? What if this is it, my high, the best it’ll ever be?
This uncertainty reflected in my day-to-day life. For months, I would avoid discussing my plans for college with any family member who asked me, and I dodged my friends’ questions about whether I was eager to start this new chapter in the Fall. I knew I had decided that I wanted to do Law and I had even chosen the school I wanted to attend, but I felt that if I talked about it, it would become real and I wasn’t prepared for that yet. I wasn’t ready to commit myself to the future so I steered clear of any opportunity to visit the colleges I was considering and even delayed applications, thinking that this was the best way to deal with my fear of starting anew.
In her journals, Sylvia Plath wrote, “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” Like Sylvia, I, too, have so many goals and intentions that it seems unrealistic to believe I’ll attain all of them. I want to contribute to improving social justice in the world by studying Law, and I want to travel the world, observing and learning more and more about the distinct cultural realities that surround me. I aspire to experience everything: to be loved and to love, to feel audacious and to triumph. Consequently, I sense I’ll inevitably be downhearted, because I’ll never be everything I hope to be. Life will happen and I’ll have to make tough choices. I won’t always be ready. And someday, tomorrow will be today and my ideas will either have become reality or they won’t. But, for now, the box is closed and all my dreams are still mine. They exist as realistic possibilities, and if I reach for them with my fingers I can almost feel them, right here, next to me.
It seems to me that all the dreams we keep in sealed boxes are both alive and dead until we peek inside. Although not opening the box may be calming for a while, there will come a time when avoiding the truth will no longer be possible. I’ve understood that choosing not to open the box, by avoiding decisions about my future, is a temporary solution—it’ll keep me in the dark, but not in the universe. Life goes on. I can’t stop it. And sure, the cat might be dead, but the difference between real life and Schrödinger’s thought experience is that even if I take a chance and fail, I can will myself to learn and keep going. Some of my dreams might not come true, but learning from my own errors and missed opportunities is a part of this process of self-discovery called living. If things don’t go precisely the way I planned, then maybe there’s good to it, and perhaps I’ll come up with other plans and discover new hopes.
So maybe I don’t feel ready to venture into this new stage. Maybe I’m afraid to unveil tomorrow’s prospects. Even if this is true, my job is to show up, to make a choice. This is what I’m doing. I’m no longer hiding behind my uncertainty in order avoid being disappointed. I’ve stopped holding up my applications, and I’ve read every brochure so as to finally feel enthusiastic about college and the time I’ll spend there. I discuss my intentions for next year, and I openly tell my friends what I hope to accomplish in the long run. I’ve chosen to open the box. We’ll see what happens next. ♦