I had breakfast with Martin in the Ateneo faculty lounge this morning. I'd eaten there before, during the summer, when there were but a handful of students around. Martin wasn't teaching, but he would come in for admin meetings at the Fine Arts Department.
Today was the first day of school, so there were more than just a handful of students there, even if it was so early in the morning. We even spotted a few moms accompanying their freshman sons. (Hay.)
With a near-empty campus in the summertime, it's easy to feel proud of yourself upon returning to your alma mater, but after this morning, I can no longer remember why. "Suddenly, college life feels like a blur," I said aloud. Suddenly, when I look back on the four years spent racing from classroom to classroom, staying up late in my dorm room to cram and commiserate with roommates during finals week, being the token little sister type in our block's guy barkada and then spending all my free time in the pub(lications) room, I hear a VROOMSH sound in my head. The pride I feel over "it all" being behind me has been replaced by shock at just how far behind me "it" is. That was college? Oh. Well. Huh.
Maybe that's why adults keep mentioning a certain "real world" whenever they talk to students. Maybe it's not so much that their disbelief in students' ability to cope with new responsibilities as it is their disbelief that they ever had old ones, once upon a time. It's not really a "real world;" it's a new world, one that bears some resemblance to the old ones (ever hear this song?) but has higher expectations and direr consequences.
Now that I think about it, life so far has been like those MMORPGs I used to play. At the start, you get a puny weapon and can only kill puny monsters. Then, as you gain more experience points, you level up. You get to wield bigger weapons and kill bigger monsters--but in the end, that's all it is: killing monsters, just at different levels.
Then the game asks you to specialize, so you focus your efforts on developing a certain aspect of your character (I have a high level of DEX, so I'd make a great archer, but now that I think about it, I'd rather be a magician). You think about stuff to invest in for your character's survival (I can afford this really cool staff, but I really should save up for a better shield).
And then, some quest or errand sends high-level you back to your old training grounds. You find that the map wasn't as big as you thought, the terrain was not as difficult, and the claws of your most feared monsters now give just a slight tickle. You may feel pride, and feel like laughing at the beginners just entering the field. But after a while, it's not even funny, and instead, you feel some kind of amnesia. "Did I really come from this place? Was I really like them? When? How?"
I don't claim to be a high-level player, whether in real life or in RPGs. I usually gave up on a game once I got the basics down and reached phase two or three of a career; the tedious quests you had to complete to become an awesome, highly specialized top-level player just didn't seem worth it to me--unlike my brother, who kept notes and bought guides and did all these calculations and stuff to make sure he made all the right moves and eventually be king of the game. Our approaches to gaming are actually not that far off from our approaches to life in general. (I wonder if it means anything that I preferred simulations to RPGs. Hmm.)
But at the very least, I can reasonably say to the people about to cross the bridges I've crossed that the fearsomeness of those ravines is all in their heads. You get over things. You move on. You even forget.
Of course I'm a little sad. I miss when things were big deals. I miss when cutting class meant a missed quiz, not a smaller payslip. I miss having concrete, if somewhat superficial goals. I miss living under the illusion that I really knew what I wanted.
But I'm here now. And when I think about it, life is good. I live independently. I have a decent job. I have my family and my friends. I have Martin. This is, more or less, the life I want for myself at this point. Even if I'm half stumbling through life out of school, there are actually more opportunities for me to be happy now than there ever were before.
And the best part is, the fun's not about to be cut short by graduation--at least, not for maybe eighty more years.
Life is good.