Nine out of ten times, a two hour class is a mini-fugue. The clock ticks in memorandum for the time you could have spent anywhere and everywhere else. You could’ve had the pulse of the world under your thumb, but those two hours (of which you cannot remember learning a thing) robbed you of these opportunities. When the class ends, that fiery fervor you had for life two hours ago has now whimpered into barely-glowing coals raked over your shoulders, under your tongue, below your feet. You feel your will steep, the passion seeping out from all over. The only mercy you crave is for the sweet embrace of a nap to wrap its hands around your shoulders and lull you into comfortable quasi-amnesia. But that’s your bit of sacrifice for a good grade, two hours. Seems relatively harmless, doesn’t it?
Yet, a two hour class I had a few weeks ago was not like the others.The professor usually starts class with an anecdote and leads into the topic; ironically, I don’t remember what the intended lesson was. What I do remember, however, is the lesson I took home:
“We were on a road trip to upstate New York, and I—my wife was driving—I was in the passenger seat reading a research journal for work and was taking notes like I do on all the family trips, and my son was in the back doing something…” He trailed off tangentially, blurring thoughts together. “You know, I once participated in a sleep chamber experiment. I thought I was one of those guys who could run on four-five hours, but I was wrong. That’s when I changed my life around. I started leaving the lab a bit earlier. Taking more vacations with my family. Putting them first and work second. Or at least I tried to. I think I did.”
Maybe I remembered his words wrong. Maybe I should’ve thought twice when he spoke of car rides and family and all I heard was the clock ticking, little boy calling out for attention. Maybe it’s the way my memory held his like hands overlapping, smoothing out the raw edges until I could hold his thoughts like a snow globe between my synaptic gaps. I shook the memory around anyway and watched the pieces of his life I knew float around the scene: top of his field, two time Ivy League graduate, successful, tenured Harvard professor, renowned researcher, former revered medical professional. He had all the attributes a typical Harvard student aspires towards—yet this was simply the snow, the fluff in the globe.
These titles are powerful, indubitably so; however, they are also heavy with the weight of sacrifices. Some of us know the word all too well by now: the typical high school experience lost between the pages of a textbook, the grade in lieu of the adventure, the litany of exciting, carefree potentialities compromised by the actuality of calculated academia and future careers being top priority. Our conception of the word sacrifice is finite. We tell ourselves that what we miss out on is “just for now”, that we can relive these missed opportunities in heaps and reams once we reach our respective successes. We convince ourselves that sacrifice is simply a necessary evil that must occur for us to reach our dreams.
The snow globe tells me a different story. This sacrifice, this torrent of snow, is infinite. Despite the lies we dress up as truths in the mirror, the reality is that the sacrifices never end; they simply reinvent themselves in new ways. One could reach the pinnacle of their respective field as my professor has, yet there will always be something one must give up in order to achieve such success in other aspects of their life.
And this give and take seems logical; one could say that this isn’t really a sacrifice at all, that doing what you love and achieving your lifelong goals is more of a gain than anything else. I’m tempted to agree with this rosier reality. We came here for our studies, and due diligence to them plus tunnel vision and a dash of luck gives way to the results we are looking for. Simple input and output process, as it seems; we shouldn’t be quick to criticize the path we’ve chosen for ourselves. Yet, when I cling to this thought, the thorns bristle under my grasp, drawing out more crimson in me than I expected. To reach such heights, you’re bound to become oxygen-deprived. To accomplish such feats, you’re expected to see only your goals, cataracts developing instinctually in the face of anything else. To be at the top of your field, you can’t quagmire yourself in the moment; you must always be working towards the peak. I don’t know if I am ready to give the sights along the way for the vistas at the top.
Although I don’t want to miss out on the sights or any of these definitive moments, if given the option to throw caution to the wind and follow this path, nine times out of ten I would turn my back to it. Maybe this can be chocked up to negligence or fear of change or some twisted sense of pomp or even out of pure stubbornness, but I fear that I will continue along this trench that so many of us students dig ourselves into, pigeonholing into this hollow mold in the hopes that sacrifice is the wrong word for the choices we’ve made.
Quietly, almost inconspicuously so, most of us will likely marshal ourselves into the contained snow globe world—but to how many will this world be a blizzard? How many will see the beauty beyond the snow—how many would care to know what’s past it?Jessenia Class ’20, is a Crimson Editorial writer living in Canaday Hall. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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