The sweeping snowstorm that clogged airport schedules and kept college students across the nation waiting for release until the wee hours of the morning made a fitting inauguration for the terrifying pre-finals weeks at Bowdoin.
Because as I sat in the back of my parents' car on the way to O'Hare Airport this past weekend, I looked over a newspaper whose headlines should have scared me senseless in and of themselves: The economy (surprise) still tanks steadily, Black Friday's profits gave no indication otherwise, jobs are scarce, war continues, the Bears lost, etc.
The only thing that was able to wrench my stomach into knots and break a sweat on my forehead, however, was thought of the enormously vast amount of work to be done in the upcoming days. As the trillions of pages of writing and reading that awaited me fogged my brain, I felt a distinct drowning sensation. My heart raced, my head pounded, and I immediately turned in my seat to look at my house shrinking in the distance.
"STOP THE CAR!" I wanted to shout. "I can't do it."
But they managed to pry me out of my seat belt at the terminal, and here I am.
I'm not sure what it is about Thanksgiving Break that in the weeks before its arrival make us feel like it's going to be a month-long oasis from academia's November drear. All I know is that now, it seems absolutely ludicrous that a week ago at this time, a three-day break made the 40 pages of writing due in the next week seem inconsequential.
"I have a lot of stuff due in a few weeks," I told a friend via G-Chat only 24 hours before I flew home. "But it's tots n.b.d. I have 4-evz."
"4-evz," I now realize, was not even close to "a few weeks." Days don't expand because we're not at school.
The only relief, really, from the painful prospect of the next week or so, is the almost universal collegiate truth: Everyone is swamped, all the time. Suffering only becomes bearable in the presence of solidarity, and then, to a degree, it becomes comical.
What is fondly amusing about these times is that in so many situations, there's really no need for "communication" per se:
"How's it going?"
Followed only by sighs and nods and murmurs of "yeah..." If the planet is ever informed of an approaching meteor that will wipe out the Earth and all its inhabitants as we know it, I imagine the social atmosphere being akin to that of Bowdoin's pre-finals weeks: a silent but extraordinary remorse covering up useless panic.
I remember when the time to panic in high school was during finals. Reading period was crunch time, of course, but the due dates and exam dates didn't pile up until that established "exam period" arrived.
Ironically, for most people I've talked to, exam period is a piece of cake. Once reading period ends, everyone seems to be kicking around until the one final they have toward the end of exams. Somehow, over the years, professors have made their semester-end workload very front-heavy. In what I'm sure was an act of kindness, a professor many moons ago decided that it would make his students lives easier during exam period to have their final due date be a week earlier. Academia caught wind of the fad, and soon everyone was giving students their exam periods "off."
But over the three and a half years I've been at Bowdoin, I've noticed only one pattern?it ends. Every semester, during the first week of December, I run around gasping for breath and bidding my "adieus" to close friends. But every semester, in what seems like an impossible test of human will and physical ability, I survive. In fact, pretty much everyone I know does.
I'm not saying it's not going to hurt. In fact, the panic you feel now will probably be with you until New Year's, by which time you might have caught up on sleep and revived your neurological pathways. But I do promise you'll get through it more or less unscathed, and that you'll recover. At least in time for next Thanksgiving...