A Fork in the Eye

by Abbye Meyer | 6/9/02 5:00am

Look around. There are forks and eyeballs rolling through the aisles, across the back of the Green, seeping onto the graduation stage. All around us, people are jabbing forks in eyes and forcing each other to deal with the consequences.

These words, to me, mean something quite different from their bloody image; a friend and I coined the wonderful phrase "a fork in the eye" a year ago, and surely there's no better time than now to bring it back and retrace its origins.

Most simply, it means "too much," an unexpected disclosure of personal information. It stems from memories of old movies and television shows, unclear memories of a conversation between a bunch of kids that goes quite wrong.

These kids are talking about the worst things they've ever done, and they all say dumb things: one stole gum from the grocery store, another used crayons on the wall. And then one kid says, "One time my sister and I were in a fight, so I jabbed a fork in her eye." And no one knows what to say, because it's just too much. It's a fork in the eye.

This whole week, I think, is one giant fork in the eye. We're all doing it.

We want to cement friendships, so we unload our stories on other people to gain a sense of trust and closeness. We want to say those things we always meant to say but didn't, because they felt like too much. We're letting our true loves know who they are.

We're dealing with crises and the emotional torment of leaving this place and our friends, so we need people to listen to us cry. Everything feels meaningful these days, and we're letting it get the best of us.

Perhaps I am not speaking for everyone. Indeed, our freak-outs are unique, the consequences of graduating different for each of us. But I don't think I know a single graduate who hasn't completely lost it and gone a little bananas.

I know that I, upon finishing a final paper and thus staying up all night, immediately cried to my housemate, "But I like being a student. I like having assignments." Bananas.

And one of my friends couldn't enjoy her final class (as an undergraduate, at least) because she couldn't stop picturing the lives of every single student in the room. She saw them graduate, get jobs, do things and finally die. She left class in tears, feeling paralyzingly morbid. Bananas.

Sometimes it feels as though we're straddling a tiny fence between the past and the future. Everything is either a memory (or a soon-to-be memory), or a first step in the rest of our lives. No wonder we've gone bananas; no wonder we're forking out each others' eyes; we've got no grounding, and our feet are dangling above two black holes.

Rumi maybe would tell us to "quit being sad" and "hear blessings dropping their blossoms." It's probably hard to notice the blossoms, as I imagine it's raining loudly and gray-ly as we sit on the Green and endure the Commencement (I'm told it rains every other year, and last year's weather was painfully beautiful).

Still, as I look around, I'll find the faces of my family -- the most perfect parents, aunts, uncles and cousins -- and of my best friends and favorite professors. What better present could there be? Look at this one, full of gowned and possibly drenched blossoms who we love.

Similarly, I think, Jerry Seinfeld -- my own favorite poet and prophet -- and his friends maybe would encourage us to "pore over the excruciating minutia of every single daily event" (in the words of Elaine Marie Benes, of course).

I've turned to "Seinfeld" before to get me through stuff like this, because sometimes I think it's only humor -- complaining, joking, poking fun -- that can make life bearable and bring us back to reality. Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer wouldn't worry about the past and the future, the ways in which they've changed, the friends they've lost and gained, the ones they'll try to track down in five years.

Granted, they're terrible people, but we can still learn a little from them. We can worry about the placement of buttons on our shirts and the linings in our jackets. And we can take small talk for what it is; we can let the little things fill these days, and save our eyeballs for the future.

It's easier said than done. But, like Jerry and Rumi, maybe we can make a moment out of anything.

We can imitate the brilliance of the final scene of "Seinfeld," when Jerry made light of his prison sentence while still in the wake of a painful trial. Rather than straddling an impossible fence, he put his feet down and asked his prison-mates, "What's with the lockdown? Why do we have to be locked in our cells? Are we that bad that we have to be sent to prison in prison?"

Thus, in following a couple of great thinkers, I'll take a break from the chaos and panic. I'll listen for blossoms, and while straining my ears, I won't be afraid to ask, "So what's the deal with these hats?"