this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on October 17, 1998. 

Flashback to summer. I am 16. I’m at a fork in the road of my life, and I am terrified. I’ll be a college freshman in June, but what will I be in June four years from now? I don’t know. Who knows? Nobody. Only God knows.

This explains my terror. This terror keeps me from wanting to know what I will be four years from now. But we all know that’s impossible.

Staying 16 forever may be impossible, but it’s very desirable. I would be safe from all those trials in life. I would never have to worry about finding a job, a home, a husband, a car, a school for my children, a place for vacations, a reliable supermarket, a way to earn extra money, or a burial plot.

I wouldn’t have to worry about losing friends, family, keys, valuable papers, wallets, glasses, or tickets. I wouldn’t have to complain about wrinkles, health problems, changing posture and hair color or senility.

If I were to be forever 16, all I would need to worry about are keeping in touch with my friends, losing weight, maintaining the state of my nails, and writing to my Dad in the Middle East. What a pleasant life. It’s so tempting to get down on my knees right now and pray fervently to God for eternal youth.

But when I think it over, I realize that though I would be protected from life’s trials and old age and all that, I would be missing a lot. I wouldn’t be able to feel the thrill of receiving my first paycheck or the excitement of moving into a house with my family. I would be denied the opportunity to be active in my child’s PTA and give him a birthday party with his friends. I would miss out on the things that are worth living for. I would miss out on the tragedies that strengthen people and give them character and develop them. I would miss out on life.

If I were to be eternally 16, I wouldn’t experience life the way others do. That would probably make me envy them, and then I would regret my state of eternal sixteen-hood. That would also make me utterly useless. Useless, because God put us on this Earth to love and to grow and just to be. Being 16 forever would defy that purpose, and I don’t want to do that.

But even as I realize all these things, I’m still at a fork in the road of my life. I still don’t know which road to travel, and I’m still terrified. But I know that I’m only doing what God put me on this earth to do. I can’t pray for my terror to go away, because it will just come back. So… I’ll just pray for guidance and strength I’ll pray to live my life fully But I’ll live my life to a great length I just hope God smiles upon me.

Back to the present. I am a 16-year-old college freshman. I am lost. Help me, please. I used to think that college was the terrifying first step toward adulthood. During the summer, I felt so frightened about going to college, but deep inside, I thought that I’d be fine once I got there.

Well, it turns out that I was right–and I was wrong, too. True, college is the first major step toward adulthood. As my parents (among others) said, college is the time to prepare for the future. College is where you learn the things that will help you get through life. It determines how you will live, how you will survive.

Put this way, it sounds like the choices you make in college determine your destiny. If you think about it, it’s true. Your course qualifies you for a certain line of work, and basically, you stay in line for life. So my parents (those other people) were right. College is your preparation for your future.

What is my future? I don’t really know. At this point in time, I could write, or teach, or be a psychologist or even a lawyer. But that’s what I think I could be. That means I don’t know what I’ll end up doing. That means I don’t know my future. In that case, how can I prepare for what I don’t know? That is why college is the first step toward adulthood. In college, you choose your course, but you don’t really get anywhere unless you work toward a goal.

While you work, you learn to be responsible and all, and you mature. You mature and you grow into an adult. Before you know it, you’re a “grown-up.” For me, that’s what makes college terrifying. Because I don’t want to grow up, even if I know it will be good for me. But we all have to grow up–unless we’re with Peter Pan in Never NeverLand, as I wish I were–and my time to start is now.

So, off to college I went. When I started, I thought to myself I’d be fine. I predicted sunny skies. Well, somehow, the big storm escaped my radar and now I’m unprepared for the strong winds and heavy downpour. Help! When I thought I’d be fine, perhaps I was thinking I’d be fine socially, which isn’t so difficult since I’ve never had social problems. But intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, I’m confused. Lost, as I like to put it. Major confusion is making its rounds in my life this time. Again I scream: Help!

Let’s tackle my intellectual confusion. My brain’s performance used to be very satisfactory. Now, my brain works overtime and my grade turns out barely passing. Huh? How did that happen? I study for hours, and somehow it’s not enough. I read a pamphlet for a certain subject and my mind says, “What was that?” I write what I think is an award-winning report and I’m told it’s “nice.” To make things worse, everybody else seems to be doing better.

How am I faring emotionally? Let’s put it this way: On a scale of one to 10, I am a -10. Gone are my characteristic confidence and trademark self-esteem. Here now is a girl who is afraid to do her best because she’s afraid to fail. This is bad for me. I’m afraid to give my all, but what if my all leads to success? I won’t know until I try. I’m afraid to try. I’m afraid of dreaming up to the clouds and of crashing back to reality. I’m afraid of being hurt, of failing–and of succeeding. In short, I’m afraid of myself.

My spiritual well being is not well, thank you. I have met people who are agnostics, or universalists (they have no one religion, but embrace all religions), or cynics, or have no religion at all. Meeting all these people and learning about their beliefs has made me doubt and question my own faith. This is bad for me. My faith is the only thing I have never lost, and now it’s beginning to fade. This makes me very, very afraid.

I’m a college girl, and I’m not fine. But now that I know what it’s like, I think, no, I know I will be fine. I just got a 1.5 on the first draft of my thesis paper. Yesterday I read a paper for my Physics class and I understood it. Better yet, I got a high score in the latest Physics exam. And as for the Math exam, I was more than content with my grade. There is hope for my brain! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, indeed, because I can now pray with confidence that Someone up there is listening. I no longer doubt my faith like I did when I first heard of the Atheists’ Circle. There is hope for the salvation of my soul, if not my sanity. But what about my emotional well being? My confidence is still low, and recently it was lowered some more. True, I can now stand in front of the members of the organization I’m joining and give an extemporaneous speech. But I still doubt my own capabilities, and this holds me back. I have yet to learn to take risks. I’m pretty sure I’ll learn, and the mere fact that I’m writing this essay proves that I am learning, and that I am gaining confidence in myself.

Now, all I have to do is regain my belief that no one will try to hurt me, because I have been wounded, and I have not yet recovered. But I’ll get there. I am getting there. Am I any less lost now than I was during the summer? Maybe, maybe not. The only person who can answer that question is me. But I’m still at the fork in the road of my life, and I’m still lost. I’m lost, but I’m hopeful. The storm has passed. And the sun is out. 

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