The Way Forward

You are seventeen, and everything that matters to you, that you orient yourself by, that you take for granted as an absolute, is suddenly and alarmingly approaching the end of the line with breakneck speed. You have taken your sense of place for granted until this moment, when you realize you no longer know where your place is.

So you run.

You run away to a land of tall green trees and deep blue waters, of long empty stretches of pebble-pocked sand and a vast, captivating sky. You trade the familiar concrete rivers and grey haze, the lights that never dim, the traffic that never dissipates, for the unfamiliar afternoon thunderstorms, the wind that slices down to bone, the leaves that catch fire in autumn, the snow that settles in January and lingers till April.

You run away, and then slow down to invent a new rhythm for this place, to match names to faces, to learn how to speak the intricate language of adulthood. What you find, as you grow in your ability to communicate with the crowd of strangers you have voluntarily immersed yourself in, is that you are something of an anomaly even as a first-year university student. You know what you are going to study, but you cannot begin to articulate why.

The months pile up and the answer remains evasive; in fact, the problem grows in complexity. You begin to understand that this failure to know what sort of butterfly you will be when you emerge from the chrysalis of university stems from a lack of understanding of who you are within the cocoon. If you could answer the question of the present, you would begin to untangle the future.

But how do you find yourself in the midst of a thousand-odd individuals who are already distinguishing themselves by their identities?

Sophomore year opens with a string of disappointments. You make the cut for neither the soccer team nor the volleyball team, and you don’t survive past the initial round of interviews for a year-long honors program. You continue in vain to attract the attention of a blonde, blue-eyed business major and instead accidentally elicit the affections of a computer science major in whom you have no interest whatsoever.

You start running faster.

You run home, for a brief respite from the constant strain of placelessness, but find no lasting relief there. You run to Swaziland, a microscopic country surrounded by South Africa like a particle engulfed by an amoeba, and begin to understand grace for the moment and joy in belonging. You run to Italy, where you find yourself an unexceptional but necessary member of an eighteen-person community, in which you discover the richness of delving into the ordinary life lived with intention and perseverance.

You run in snowstorms and through rain, under the stars and by the light of the rising sun. You run on roads and trails and cobblestone paths. You run with friends and alone, for distance and for speed. You run until your feet blister and your knees ache and your lungs heave.

As long as you refuse to stand still, it’s nearly impossible to determine who you are intrinsically, at your core.

You started running to find answers, but you keep running to avoid them.

Winter stops you in your tracks.

When the last flurries of snowstorm Juno settle, you pick up your shovel and fight your way through a tunnel of banked snow out into the sunlight. You stand on your porch, every muscle fiber in your body aching from exertion, and in the cold, clear, stark-white morning, you breathe. You breathe, and the chrysalis cracks, and the wings unfurl.

You graduate, and you move three times in a year. You quit two jobs and start two others. You lose your car after an accident, and you buy a new one. You cut ties with someone you cared about too deeply.

But you don’t run.

Emily is one of our talented editors on the WHILST team. Her favourite books are Atonement and Perks of Being a Wallflower and her favourite TV series is Sherlock. What she loves about being a creative is that no one will ever see the world in the exact same way that she does.