Thursday, May 14, 2015

But things don't always come that easy, and sometimes I would doubt...

Every school year, at the beginning of the year, there would always be one assignment that stuck out like a sore thumb because every teacher assigned it. As far back as I can remember I would have to write about what I did on my summer vacation. Now (teachers pay very special attention to this part) summer to a child is an organic, free-flowing experience. Every day is a new adventure and every forgettable moment is a fleeting reminder of how much time we stood to lose between sunset and school pictures. So excuse me if I count these essays as the worst in my academic career. They were loose and disorganized, the product of having to sum up three months of freedom into a miniscule two pages. There wasn't enough paper in the world (or sometimes, too much paper if you couldn't remember anything) to chronicle the magic of long days and vacations to faraway places and when the pencil dropped the memories stopped, locked into a box and tucked away under your desk until the weather got hot, Oakdale baseball started, and Field Day (oh, joyous Field Day!) approached. 

My 21st summer leaves me with no shortage of things to write about. The primary reason for this is because I never really experienced a summer quite like this one. But I can't say everything was bad. In fact, I count these months as the most pivotal in my life. But on with the story, right?

It all started in April. I was due to become a freshly minted member of the Class of 2011. My cap and gown were in, the invitations were ordered, and I was ready to segue into the great unknown of the working world; something that I had been told about my entire life but was ready to experience for myself. But then, it happened. 

I failed. 

Bit the dust. Screwed the pooch. Bottomed out. Whatever the euphemism was I hit it right on the head. I got cocky, didn't study, and it led to my life being put on hold for two months. I was embarrassed, shocked, angry, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had let everyone down. Honestly, outside of the death of family members, it was the toughest thing I've ever had to endure: deflecting the questions about why I wasn't graduating, looking at the faces of all my friends and classmates come graduation time, even seeing the billboards congratulating the Class of 2011. For those few weeks in May the world seemed to rub salt in every wound before I lick them. The thing I had relied on for sixteen years, my academic talents, had dissolved in a pile of hubris and complacency. Without that, I had nothing. Or did I?

This is a strange thing to admit but I seem to have a theme song for everything: gameday, wedding days, even church days. I use music to compartmentalize my life because it seems easier when you have a mood that can be enhanced by the perfect song. So when I walked into my summer class the song I had on my iPod was the only one I could think of on the walk into campus. "Mean" by Taylor Swift. You see, people had allied themselves to me because I was the "smart" one, the one that always had the answers. Well, it just so happened that I didn't have the answer as to why I never walked across the stage on May 20th. And those people who had hung around to see the rise of the great academician fled my falling star faster and more swiftly than I saw the star burn out. I was legitimately mad: at myself for allowing this to happen, at the deserters in my camp, and at the damned teacher who wouldn't pass me. I was going to kick this class in the ass, get my diploma, and vanish into the purple and gold sunset. No prisoners. And everyone who every doubted me would get the mean treatment. If you ever thought I never had a mean bone in my body all this may come as a surprise but let me be the first to say, if I'm mad there's a reason. And you never want to see me angry. 

So in between kicking this class' ass (I like saying that) and nearly spontaneously combusting every damn day I found the path to redemption involves a little laughter and humility too. The best form of those qualities came at summer camp. Though I was only there for two days I was glad to take a little break from the daily grind of school and work. It was a great time and I learned something all parents know: no matter how many degrees you have children will always find a way to humble you. I already knew this from Sunday school yet somehow it rang truer this June. After camp and for the first time in a long time I didn't feel all the external pressures I normally felt. I was myself again, wholly. It didn't matter what other people thought of me or how I carried the impossibly high expectations of being in an Indian family. I was happy being at camp and being a role model by the being the funniest (if I do say so myself) and best person I could be. Grades didn't matter. I was the microcosm of Lemonade Mouth, another rallying cry for my summer, and only I was going to Determinate my future. 

So here I am. July has been a nondescript month (with the exception of today, of course) and the only thing I feel now is the worn weariness of surviving summer and a twinge of anticipation to August. I'm happy now, having realigned my life by focusing on what is really important to me. The bitterness of failure is almost gone but the reminder that lingers only serves to keep me motivated in what I'm doing. I'm a simpler, better person all because I let myself approach this summer with an open mind and no-holds-barred attitude. And the story of my summer can be expressed through the words of (oddly enough) Conan O'Brien, whose commencement address at Dartmouth struck the perfect chord with me: 

"It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention."

That's the long story of my summer. I will graduate on August 5th and this narrative might as well be tossed to the wind. There have been some amazing things that have impacted me in these two months but nothing more poignant than the launch and landing of STS-135, the final space shuttle flight. Ever since I was a little boy I dreamed of being an astronaut and the failure of that goal (though however unforeseen) has led me here to this moment. To the realization of the person I want to be for the rest of my life.

Of course, you could've just asked me for the short version of my summer: 

I didn't want to graduate college until the Space Shuttle was retired.