The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Students in the mist

Today was a day of gentle, heart softening nostalgia. There are occasions in my job where I return to university campuses and the experience is always beatific. There was a while there where I had my suspicions that the dreamy, cobwebbed blanket that settles on me on these occasions was some toothless, low-yield iteration of envy but I’m not so sure anymore. Time is different here, place folds in on itself trailing tattered fronds of brickdust-caked sellotape and photocopied fliers at its edges. And through it all drifts the student, in all its many forms. Male, female, fashionable, scruffy, academic, nerdy, sporty, fraught, laconic, immature. Untouchable. Cocooned in a world that holds them a hair’s breadth from reality. It’s hard not to adore them, feel protective towards the fragile academic cloisters through which they move and interact. Because here everyone owns their potential. And that’s the mystery ingredient, the extra oomph that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck- the sheer undiluted potential of the place and its erstwhile inhabitants. Nothing here had been decided yet, it’s all still all to play for, no doors have been closed or plans made that can’t be undone. Potential, like a spur, a treasure map, a telescope, an idol.

It’s brilliant, fascinating to an observer, even one like myself who has, when all’s said and done, made very few intractable decisions myself and am immeasurably happy with the ones I have made anyway. But it’s strange because even in the 5 years that separates me from them I’ve changed to such a degree where I’m not one of them anymore. I could probably pass for one at a stretch but they are intrinsically different, fireworks that could quite simply go off in any direction whereas the showering sparks of my own trajectory are already painted magnesium-white halfway across the night sky.

This feeling I get as I walk among them, anonymous, half-smiling – it isn’t envy, a longing for blue touch paper unignited and intact. It’s something else, something better, something deeper.

I think it’s contentment.


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