It’s the time of year when I start thinking less about what I’m putting in my backpack than what I’ll soon be taking out of it. On the last day of school every year, I dump the contents of my bag onto my bedroom carpet, going through the arduous process of deciding what to keep. Thank-you note? Definitely saving that. Less-than-stellar math test? Recycling bin. AP review book? Donate. That random sock? Long overdue for the laundry room. It’s a cathartic thing, seeing the contents of my year go from a chaotic jumble to a neat stack on my shelf.
But this year, my challenge won’t be fitting my memories into my home. My challenge will be fitting my home into my memory. At the end of my next first day of school, I’ll be coming home to a dorm and a roommate, not my house and family. That’s an overwhelming thought. So I’m doing what I always do when I feel overwhelmed: making a list.
One of the most important things about packing is knowing what not to pack. Take it from me, a notorious over-packer whose bulging suitcase always gets an eye roll from the airline attendant. It can sometimes be easy to think, “It wouldn’t hurt to bring this…and this…” and you get the idea. But overpacking can weigh you down in more ways than one. So when I leave for college in three short months, I’m hoping to do so with a light mental suitcase. (Sorry, Mom–you know my real luggage is still going to fill up your entire minivan.)
I’m leaving behind fear. It’s good to be scared every so often–but not of circumstances that are out of my control. In the words of one of my favorite pieces of writing, a 1997 Chicago Tribune column, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” I can’t prepare for every possible disaster that might befall me in college, and I won’t expect the ones that do. But I won’t let that stop me from seeking out new experiences. All I can do is be flexible, rolling with whatever punches life throws my way.
I’m also leaving behind disillusionment.
As a senior, I’ve been more involved in our community than ever. Unfortunately, I’m still learning that involvement has almost as much to do with disappointment as it does with fulfillment.
One of the most difficult lessons of Chappaqua, or maybe anywhere, is learning that institutions, credos, and people will sometimes fail you. But from that disenchantment comes the satisfaction of discovering a sense of perseverance and happiness in spite of shortcomings.
What else am I packing? Sunscreen. Perspective. Shower shoes. Forgiveness. Pencils. Courage. Confidence. Character. My DeMarie dinosaur. My pocket Constitution. My train of thought (wouldn’t want to lose that). My memories of our town’s many wonderful people, who have shaped me in too many ways to count.
And, of course, I’m leaving some empty space. After all, if the place you’re headed won’t add something worthwhile to who you are, why bother going? The last thing I want to do is waste my transformative college years re-teaching myself everything I’ve already been taught. I want my perceptions to be challenged and changed; I want to be inundated with new ideas that teach me different ways to be a better person. Here’s to open suitcases and open minds.
No matter what I pack, I know I’ll feel like I’m forgetting something. How can I possibly recall everything Chappaqua has meant to me? I’ve seen the daffodils burst open in front of Reader’s Digest and kicked a soccer ball through autumn leaves at Gedney. I’ve watched my classmates get puppies, braces, jobs, and college acceptance letters. So much has changed in the 17 years I’ve called this town home. While I can’t know what will change in the next four, I’ll always be grateful to have grown up here. That gratitude will be on my packing list for the rest of my life.