It's ironic, really, how many people I know that hated going to a small college in a small town, only to miss it with a passion once they transferred to the "big leagues." Some of them missed the smaller classroom environment, some of them missed the teachers who actually cared and didn't treat them like numbers, and some of them just missed the people they had met along the way who helped to make the college experience a little more special. Some, myself included, look back at those awkward first years with the excruciating pain of hindsight, wondering why they ever made those dumb decisions and mourning all the opportunities that were irreplaceably lost, either as scholars, as citizens, as friends, or in love. For me, it's those latter two that hurt the most . . . that unbearable question of "what if things had been different?"
Of course, it's foolish to dwell on the past; we all know we can't change what's already happened, wish as we might that we could. Besides, I really do believe that everything does indeed happen for a reason, even though that reason may escape us at the time. Still, we can't help but to wonder about the past, as though there were some way to shoot a "reboot" of the movie of our lives. What if I had never even talked to that one guy, the guy who became my best friend and ultimately the biggest jerk I ever had to deal with? Imagine the pain I could have avoided . . . imagine not having to know the heartache of being betrayed by my best friend . . . and imagine if I had never learned the valuable life lessons that came from it. Moving on, there is also the question of love. I met a girl two years ago, and you know what? I fell in love. As cliche as it sounds, I fell in love. It was slow at first--I'm not one of these people who falls in love at first sight, you know--but it was real. And after a good chunk of time in the "like" phase, I finally decided to ask her on a date . . . only to find out she had just gotten a new boyfriend. So what did I do? I languished in the "Friend Zone" for a long time, that's what, and guess what happened? She became one of the best friends I ever could have asked for, and as I got used to that fact, I came to accept it. But I still loved her, and she never knew. Now it's far too late for regrets and "what if" scenarios, but I still wish sometimes that I had found the courage to say something when I had the chance, because I KNEW she was the kind of person I could have had a legitimate, meaningful relationship with. *Sigh* Yep, that didn't pan out. So now I have to ask the biggest "what if" of all: what if I had gone ahead and graduated after two years instead of sticking around for three? I had the credits--I could have done it! Plus, in so doing I would have again avoided so much pain, because it was that last dreadful year that brought my world crashing down around me. I would have been able to bypass an entire chapter of personal anguish and just move on to a new place, starting fresh. My lost friendships would have remained intact, I wouldn't have had to grow closer to a girl I could never have, and all would be well . . . right?
Not necessarily. Y'see, that last year at my first college was the absolute worst experience I could have possibly imagined, but it was also the very best. I got an amazing job, thereby allowing me to save up for my eventual transfer to a bigger school and also giving me the chance to work for and with some truly amazing people. Even as my pre-established friendships went out the window, my new coworkers became even better friends than I could ever have imagined, and it is they whom I most keep in contact with today. Through my job, I got to meet so many new people, and also got to know other people I already knew even better. And even though my heart never got past the pain of that good ol' Charlie Brown-style unrequited love, gaining a best friend definitely didn't hurt. For that matter, I was able to meet a LOT of truly wonderful, often-eccentric girls, many of whom are among my very best friends today. I may not currently be "in love" (or maybe I am; nobody's concern but mine, haha), but I can say that I now have a lot of people who I genuinely LOVE, on a far deeper level, because I was able to get to know them for who they are as special individuals. As for my romantic life (or lack thereof), yeah, still nothin' happening there, but I'm more confident now because I don't get nervous around women anymore. Who knows what the future will hold? I don't know, but I feel like that third year helped me to get past a lot of self-imposed mental blocks.
Probably one of the biggest benefits to staying an extra year was this: if I had transferred after two years, I would have gone to a school where I would have been miserable. By staying an extra year, I was able to do my homework and decide where I really wanted to go--and, more importantly, where I did NOT want to go. And really, I believe everything is working out the way it was meant to. I'm at a great school--best in the state, if not the nation, for what I'm going into. I'm living in an amazing house with some amazing roommates--not the crappy dorm room I would have been stuffed into if I had gone to the other school. I've got a . . . well, it's not an amazing job, but it's got flexible hours and I'm getting paid; I like my new coworkers better than the job itself, though. Heck, I'm even in a better town now than I would have been, because everything is close by and there is always something to do, night or day.
Long story short: everything works out for the best, sooner or later . . . usually later. We may not see any benefit to the crap we go through at the time, but ultimately, it's going to be okay. I went through more emotional pain, more stress, more everything . . . than I thought I could handle this past year. But I also had a lot of good things happen, too. So what if it was a crappy year in the short-run? In the long run, I wouldn't change a thing. I am THANKFUL for what my life has become due to the things, both good and bad, I experienced after 3 years in a small town college environment. I am THANKFUL for the school, THANKFUL for the people, and THANKFUL for the memories. It takes both happiness and hardships to mold us into the people we are today, and though we pray for the happiness and try to avoid the hardships, we should still try our best to learn from both when faced with them. I'm still trying to accept the latter . . . still asking "What if . . .?" a bit too often, but still, when the river has been dealt and all bets have been placed, I sit here with confidence in the hand I've got, and I won't even consider folding. I am THANKFUL for my life.
Oooh, by the way, I am also thankful for being able to see so many great friends when I came back into town for the break. Y'all rock, ya dig? :DDDDD