Amidst the comforts of home in San Diego, life feels full. Sometimes I even feel good enough – as if I haven’t wasted my time on the planet entirely. Here in Oakland, though, trolling through post-baccalaureate pre-medical classes at Mills College, surrounded by the eager and the hopeful, the articulate and the arrogant, I often feel empty; but I have come here to be filled up. It doesn’t make sense. As much as I learn, and marvel and rejoice at the learning, I am continuously reminded of what blaring ignorance must have existed in my mind prior to all this new knowledge’s entry.
In college, I crammed wildly for an anthropology midterm the night before the exam. I had to read an entire book, The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. I did it, and performed well, though I don’t remember a single detail about those sad and lonely Nuer today. But after the test, instead of feeling satisfied, or even guilty, I just kept thinking about how I won’t live long enough to read all the books I really want to read. Democracy in America, Slaughterhouse Five, Watership Down, Animal Farm, Heart of Darkness, everything by Virginia Woolf. Maybe if I had started earlier it would have been possible, but not anymore. I felt panicked, seized by an urgency. But in lieu of just beginning, I instead found solace in the thought that even if I couldn’t read all the books in the world, at least it remained possible to read every entry in the dictionary. Surely, I had enough time to complete this miniature version of the entirety of learning. For awhile, that thought quelled my anxiety and helped me forget the weight of all those inevitable, unread pages.
But now, seven years later, I realize that someday a moment will pass after which even the dictionary scheme will no longer be possible. And I won’t even know it; I can’t gauge the time it would take to speed through all of Webster’s entries; and even if I could, I simply don’t know when that icy hand of death will grasp me. So what does this mean? That I should start on the dictionary immediately? Even if I should, I’m not going to. Willfully, I’m saving it for that unknowable, last possible moment. Am I the only one?
I’m looking for my people; where are they? People all around me now move with too much purpose; they are privileged, genuine, and on a path. But I remember that they are searching, too. I know that they cannot possibly read all the books. And I feel certain that as much as others know many things that I do not, it is equally likely that I might possess some slice of knowing that no one else does. So this is enough – just to believe, at this moment, that the chance for my own revelation in the world still exists.
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