Back to school
And the promise that the beginning of the school year held out
I am a bit hazy about when new school terms start these days – blame it on not having a few stroppy mites of my own – but I remember the beginning of my own academic year with crystal clarity. By some happy chance, it coincided with the beginning of the New Year itself. And so, as a new year dawned, it was time to enter a new class at school.
There was a certain ritualistic joy to the whole routine. The buying of new textbooks and notebooks, sitting down one evening with reams of brown paper to cover them before sticking on a label with my name and class clearly marked out. The new school bag and pencil box, the slightly larger uniform that I could grow into in the course of the year, the annual visit to Bata to buy the regulation school shoes and, if I could persuade my mother, a brand-new haircut.
The newness persisted once school actually began. There was a different classroom, for starters, and the chance to bag a better seat than the one I had the year before. There was all that jostling to ensure that my best friends were seated next to me. There was some nervous excitement at the thought of meeting the new class teacher, and much speculation about how nice/strict she would be. And then, there were the lessons themselves, comprising completely new information for our impressionable minds.
All told, there was a sense of making a fresh start, the promise of a new beginning. And I am sure it was the same for my classmates.
It didn’t matter if you had failed miserably at maths last year; this year you could do a complete turnaround and surprise everyone. Maybe this would be the year when you were finally elected class monitor. Perhaps, for once, you would not be the last person to be picked when the class was choosing its basketball team. And with a bit of luck, this time round you would land a meaty role in the annual school concert.
And the most brilliant thing about school – as far as I was concerned at least – was that you got this chance to start over every year.
And then came college, with an even bigger opportunity to completely recast your image. There you were, just another unknown in a cast of anonymous hundreds. Nobody really knew anything about you. The professors had no clue what you were good or bad at. Your classmates didn’t have any pre-conceptions about you, nor you about them. As for the smattering of old school friends still around – they were just as keen to re-invent themselves and hence were content to give you a wide berth.
So, here was the chance of a lifetime: to be whatever you had ever dreamt of becoming.
The class nerd could have a personality transplant and become the mainstay of the debating society. The mousey little girl with spectacles and braces, who always sat at the back of the class in school hoping desperately that no one would notice her, could get a makeover and become the star of the college’s drama division. The sports captain could flower into a writer; the swot could blossom into a singer; the class idiot could discover a sudden talent for photography.
This was a world brimming with possibilities; it was entirely up to you to reach out, grab one and then run with it.
I think, to some extent, that’s the problem with growing up – or even, growing older. The prospect of new beginnings begins to fade with each year, becoming more and more remote with every decade that passes you by.
I don’t mean to suggest that adults – young, middle-aged or old – cannot start over. Yes, of course we can. But without the optimism of youth to back us up, we find it much harder to take that leap of faith. It takes a certain insouciance to press alt, control, delete on the keyboard of life and start afresh. And the older we grow the less willing we are to take that risk.
That’s not to say that people don’t indulge in some sort of course correction at some point in their lives. Sometimes it comes as part of a mid-life crisis, sometimes as a wake-up call after a health scare, and sometimes it is the result of sheer boredom with the life you have been leading so far.
This may manifest itself in different ways. Men may cheat on their wives with their pretty young secretaries; women may sign up for plastic surgery to resurrect their younger selves; couples may relocate to a new city to rediscover the romance in their relationship; and people may change jobs, even careers, to recapture that rush that accompanies a new start.
But no matter what you hard you try to re-invent yourself as an adult, there is no denying the fact that the older you get the more difficult it is to rid yourself of the baggage of your past.
You may find a brand new wife/husband but the baggage of your first failed marriage will always weigh you down. You can try and recreate your childhood through your kids or even use them to fulfil your dreams. But kids have a way of growing up and moving on and there you are, left to your own devices once again.
I don’t know about you, but it makes me long for the promise that the beginning the school year held out.