Be A Winner At The Game of Life
Last year the '99s seemed like new play things -- an endless selection of students to look at tenderly and say, "ah, not so long ago ... "
So we '98s watched the new shmobs and said the same things to the '99s the upperclassmen had said to us, and waited for the day that another new class would arrive and the '99s would look back at us, their mentors, awed by our prescience, and say, "You were right. You can pick out a freshman as easily as you can pick out a prospective student, parents in tow."
But this year is different for 98s. A feeling is creeping up on us that my trip leader, Tom Albushies '95, now a Dartmouth med student, warned would come: we feel old. Instead of being mirrors of our recent past or looking glasses to reflect all our new-found wisdom, the freshmen seem to be shadowy reminders of what we were.
The days seem far gone when we physically embraced people we hardly knew and constantly touched our friends to actually assure ourselves that we were not lone pines. The terms when we had enough energy to start our weekends on Thursday night have been replaced by an occasional lucky night when we have time for a quiet confessional among friends close enough to live together yet still too busy to see each other. The days when BlitzMail was our lives and the Internet was a beckoning Eden have been buried beneath a blitz of Major classes and an avalanche of self-doubt over the paths we have chosen.
I was playing Life with my best friend from home the other day. It is a board game Terry and I have been playing together for a decade. By now it serves as keep-busy amusement, no more than background for late-night conversations. The game is typical '80s fare: success equals money. You get married. You have kids. The winner becomes a millionaire ... or a millionaire tycoon. The biggest hurdle you and your spouse may encounter is having to dispose of your uncle's skunk farm.
I remember playing Life once with my younger brother and his equally young friend. They decided to swerve both their cars out of control, yelling "drunk driving! drunk driving!" knocking over white plastic buildings and throwing their wives and female children to their tragic deaths. Only the baby-blue plastic male children survived.
Their rebellion against the strictures of the game upset my preadolescent sense of the world. (I thought Life was the way life was supposed to be.) I threatened to leave if they did not bring their wives back to life, and after some negotiation they agreed, repositioning the pink plastic personifications of womanhood ... in the backseat of each of their cars.
Right at the beginning of Life, each player must pick a route -- Business or University. Terry and I have both always assessed the routes depending on our first roll, but to my recollection, neither of us has ever chosen Business. We were both raised to know that University, with its promise of knowledge, is the key to real success. This time, Terry rolled a five. She counted in both directions. The Business route landed her on "Contest winner! Collect $12,000." The University route said, "Pay $5,000 tuition."
Terry looked from one choice, with its immediate gratification, to the other with its cost but inherent greater value, up at me, and then back at the two options. "Rachel, what do I do?!" she asked me, as if her decision would actually affect her future and not just the outcome of the game. "What do I DO?!" For a moment I was sucked into her false sense of reality. We sat quietly, both of us dwelling on the looming future. "Terry, it's JUST a GAME," I finally remembered. "PICK one." She took the University route and four moves later was a happily married doctor with a daughter, twin sons, and a cushy salary.
Perhaps life is getting too close for me to play Life. Plastic and cardboard should not be a source of stress. And this is where the 2000s come in. I think we all planned on being helpful yet sage upperclassmen. But for me it is not working out that way. The 2000s are still looking at the school we love with the fresh eyes of neophytes. They are not busy and self-absorbed yet. They still smile and say hello to each person they happen upon in the hallways or on the lawns of their new home. They are abecedarians, and we have been in the soup so long.
We can chuckle at their ingenuousness with knowing upper-class aplomb, or we can take their presence as a reminder that our time at Dartmouth is ephemeral and make sure what we care about does not get lost in the stress of ... life.