Finding Meaning in School and Work — ‘Lightly’
By the time this gets published, I’ll have started the last semester of my undergraduate career, which is exciting … and terrifying in equal measure. People always say it goes by fast, and in some ways it does, but all I’ve been able to think about lately is how ready I am to be done, especially with graduate school on the horizon.
I started as an English literature and writing major, which had been the dream for more than a decade. I remember sympathizing with high school classmates who faced vagueness about their own future, having no idea what they wanted to do. But, overall, I had no idea what they were going through. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Always.
So, it followed: An English literature and writing major, paired with a minor in Spanish. If my mom had her way, or journalism was the perfect career path. It made sense to me, and it made sense of everything I’d gone through — the surgeries, and the birthdays in the hospital, and the scar of my spine, metal rods resting precariously beneath that still-tender skin. At least, I could put all the grief, the anger and confusion into my writing; I could make it useful somehow, instead of it just being something I would carry with me.
Then I got to college, and I realized that, while I still wanted to be a writer, my want did not necessarily translate into a love for 15th-century British literature, which, of course, was the class I took fall semester of my freshman year. Maybe I’d be able to tolerate it now, at 22 years old, but at 18 I was depressed, lonely, uncertain. At once, I didn’t know anything, only that I didn’t have it in me to be happy where I was.
Looking back, I’m glad of that. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I like to think it was meant to be. You have to go through uncertainty to reach certainty. And with my bachelor of arts degree almost complete, and my master of arts degree within reach, I can say that psychology was the right major, with counseling being the right career path. I’ll still be able to put my grief, my anger and confusion to good use. I am hopeful I will be able to help others like me in their journeys toward acceptance, healing — whatever lies in store for them.
So often it feels as if my SMA is meaningless. That is hard to come to terms with because, of course, it’s meaningless. There rarely is a clear-cut reason for diseases like mine, and even when you bring genetics or environmental factors into the equation, you still don’t get an explanation.
Sometimes it’s just the roll of the dice, the luck of the draw, but with massive consequences, a massive impact on your life. There’s no answer to the question of “Why?” other than “I’m sorry. There was nothing you could’ve done.” Or, in my case, “She won’t live past nine years of age.”
That’s a cruel sentence for something so reliant on chance.
What do I do with that? I remember thinking, especially during my freshman year of college. The result of depression? Yes, but also just discouragement. Heaviness. I read this Aldous Huxley’s quote a lot, and tried to memorize it. “Lightly,“ Aldous says. But how?
I don’t want to make it seem as if everyone finds meaning in their ability to help people. Many don’t, and that’s just as valid; we all cope in different ways. We all find ourselves wrestling in the mud, I think, at one time or another, face-to-face with the muzzle of it all. It doesn’t make sense always.
Sometimes trying to make it make sense is … futile. But I find comfort in the fact that I can at least do something. I at least have something to work toward, a fixed point on the horizon. And, if I’m lucky, soon I will have something to show for it: My BA, and eventually my own practice. I won’t be able to help everyone, but if I can reach one person, that will be enough.
“No luggage,” Aldous says. “No sponge bag.” Knowing I’ve made a difference is the only thing I want to carry with me, I think. And it’s definitely all I’m carrying with me as I step into the last semester of my undergraduate career.
I’m walking lightly. I’m throwing away my baggage and going forward.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.