Yes, me! A generally confident person in her late forties, completely stymied by the online process of registration in college. What was expected of me? How could I engage in friendly banter with others when there was no line in which to stand? Small talk had always helped to allay my fears when faced with anything new or challenging. Online, I couldn’t bluff my way through this maze. Hitting ENTER seemed so final. I breathed deeply, dove in and came up for air when I finally had all my courses selected, except for one science elective. Hoping to find an Astronomy class so I could finally learn about the stars and all things lunar, I was dismayed to find that only a Geology lecture course was still open. Why had this course not filled up? Was it the course content? The teacher? Was I about to sign up for something everyone else was smart enough to run away from? I knew nothing about rocks, nor was I at all sure I wanted to! Rocks? Really?
My fingers hovered above the Enter key: You’re making a big mistake! My already shaky confidence ebbed away with every second I hesitated. Here’s what I was learning: Our options are often limited by our lack of familiarity in uncharted terrain. This place called “not home” can be a frightening destination; its streets are paved with bewilderment, delusion and fear. Does this have to be so? How many times had I conquered my initial fears only to find challenges were just incognito adventures. Closing my eyes, I realized returning to college meant I would be challenged many more times. As Murakami says here, let in the fresh air and change the water…fear is part of being alive!
“Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.”
— Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)
Fortunately, mine was a short-lived panic. The first day of class, I entered an auditorium with 300-plus other students. Three cups of coffee floated in me, enough to drown most of my insecurities. I can always leave, I told myself. No one gets arrested for dropping a course, do they? At the front of the room was an instructor with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent, Liam Neeson’s face and the manic wit and timing of Robin Williams. Within days, I was hooked on ROCKS! Yes, you read that right: rocks! With the instructor’s eccentric geological humor, terms like sediment, seepage and seismicity quickly became part of our student vernacular. The auditorium became a second home for me that semester. When it ended, Geology was the course I missed the most.