Stopping by the Woods on a Rainy Afternoon

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The tiny trail a couple minutes walk from my house is my tiny oasis of wilderness, surrounded by a sea of suburbia. No walls, no ceiling, nothing to confine me. I spend my afternoons after school, soaking in the openness that surrounds me, embraces me, doesn’t encroach on me.

I come here so often, I know every birdsong, and tree like the notes of a symphony I composed myself.

I come here to think, to run, to breathe air that isn’t tinged with car sounds and LED lights.

“Man is condemned to be free.” – Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot. I first read Existentialism is a Humanism as a confused freshman and it was overwhelming. Every phrase seemed to be heavy with meaning, but it was a meaning I was not ready to understand. Last week, I picked up the book again on a whim and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, especially this particular line. The book is beautifully written, terrifying and intense. Sartre speaks of abandonment, of realizing that we are on our own. Anguish, for being aware of the weight of responsibility of our freedom. Despair, for being unable to accept things as they happen outside our control. I became obsessed with his words and the art that came from his philosophy.

Sometime between my freshman year and now, I’ve become acutely aware of how habitual we are. Alarm sounds. Wake up. Eat breakfast. Go to school. Afterschool activities. Do homework. Dinner. Sleep. Repeat.

I remember being in elementary and middle school, and feeling like a newly sprouted plant. I was growing. Growing. Growing. Faster. Faster. So many words of encouragement. “The world is your oyster!”

Until this encouragement started to feel like pressure, and I grew sad and wild because of it. I didn’t want to read textbooks anymore; I wanted to camp out in the forest and document the growth patterns of ferns myself. I didn’t want to write another literature analysis of Hamlet; I wanted to write my own play.

When did my life become so restrictive? Why am I so afraid of my freedom?

These questions that have been turning turning turning in my head for years reach a climax.

My whole life, I have been running. It started out as a crawl, then a couple tentative steps, until I reached a heaving sprint toward a vague horizon. But I have lost direction. The path I trek is no longer straight, and laid out perfectly before me. I am starting to feel the weight of all the choices I have made and am going to make.

The sky is changing now. What had started out as a blue, blue sky is now grey. It starts to rain.

And I realize: my horizon is still there; like the moon, even when it looks like it’s waning, it’s never actually changing shape.

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