For years my college catalog carried a black and white photo of two people "traying" down a hill in the winter snow. (Do students still do this – slide down hills on serving trays?) In the picture, snow is flying and you can almost hear the students’ glee as they skid wildly down the slope.
Every time I saw that picture I felt envy and anger. How could those people be so happy and be having such a good time? My college years were not especially happy. And when did those students find time to get outside? I went traying only once in college.
It’s not that college was so awful; more like bittersweet. There were some good moments, but also a lot of anguish and self-realization. But mostly my college years were a lot of hard work and worry. Campus life was intense, and I did not adapt well to work hard, play hard living. Perhaps it was a lack of self-confidence and uncertainty that I could handle the academic and social challenges that came my way.
When I walked past the campus common and saw people playing Frisbee, or stared out the library window at a chaotic game of softball in the field below, I felt like an outsider. Why couldn’t I abandon the books and cut loose for a while? Why did I find it so hard to balance work and play, and how did these people do it so effortlessly? A PE teacher once told us the best thing to do when we felt like a nap was to take a walk. I knew she was right, but I couldn’t bring myself to waste an hour wandering around the campus arboretum.
By my senior year, pre-exam stress and tremendous self-doubt were taking their toll. I had no choice but to take the PE teacher’s advice. I started walking and swimming as regularly as I could, and in a fit of anxiety, decided to go for broke on my seniors' exam, i.e. show evidence of thought rather than regurgitate what I knew. I was scared, but the strategy worked. I got honors on the exam. By spring, when I knew I would graduate, I began to relax a little and even took courses that were out of character for me. One of them became one of my favorite courses.
So despite my self-doubts, college did its job. I learned to respect emotional well-being, honor the balance between body and mind, and enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
As I look back, my biggest regret is that I’m such a slow learner. Several years after graduation while I was digging through some boxes, I ran across the college catalog and stared at that picture for the umpteenth time still puzzling over how those people knew what it took me so long to realize. Suddenly I noticed something. One of the jackets looked familiar…and I think I once had mittens like those.
The lead person on the tray was me.
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