A friend of mine from high school recently posted a David Sedaris quote as her Facebook status. I consider myself a fan of David Sedaris in the way that many people, myself included, consider themselves fans of “This American Life” or Shatner-era “Star Trek.”
Sure, I’m broadly familiar with Sedaris’s work — some paragraphs here and there, maybe a short story. So I’m sure I’d like an entire book, too, if I got around to reading one. Anyway, I’m a big Sedaris fan — at the very least, I think I’m the type of person who could eventually become a big Sedaris fan.
My friend, however, is an actual fan of David Sedaris and posted a quote from his 2008 essay collection, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” as her status. I won’t replicate it entirely — it’s a little long — but here’s the gist of it: Life happens. College plans typically don’t match grown-up realities.
“Weird doors open. People fall into things,” Sedaris writes. “Maybe the engineering whiz will end up brewing cider, not because he has to, but because he finds it challenging. Who knows? Maybe the athlete will bring peace to all nations, or the class moron will go on to become president of the United States — though that’s more likely to happen at Harvard or Yale, schools that will let anyone in.”
I read the quote, and I liked it. I smiled at the beginning and chuckled at the end. So I liked her status, giving it one of those cursory “likes” of acknowledgment and vague appreciation. And I left it at that until, several hours later, my friend posted on my wall in response. “Sure,” she wrote. “It’s funnier if you go to Yale.”
At first, I was confused, because I wasn’t sure if the quote was in fact funnier if you went to Yale or if her comment was more of a good-natured dig. Then, in true bleeding heart liberal fashion, I analyzed the situation — perhaps a bit too much — considering the various institutional privileges afforded to me by my Yale education and whether laughing at Sedaris’ joke was an abuse of those privileges.
After all, while I laugh at a joke about the benefits of a Yale education, thousands of people are consequently denied the social and economic mobility that my education facilitates. Or something. It was all very philosophical and self-deprecating. Sedaris, for what it’s worth, attended several colleges before graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
On Oct. 27, New York Times columnist David Brooks asked his septuagenarian readers to send him “life reports,” reflections inspired by autobiographies members of Yale’s Class of 1942 wrote upon their 50-year reunion. According to Brooks, “the most common lament in this collection is from people who worked at the same company all their lives and now realize how boring they must seem.” A businessman mourns lost opportunity; a rancher regrets forgoing the opportunity to move to Australia.
Other men appeared more fulfilled, including a Yalie who fought in World War II, helped develop the birth control bill and worked at the International Criminal Court. “If diversity is the spice of life,” wrote the man, “then mine resembled hot Indian curry.”
We tend to want our lives to be hot Indian curry: spicy, exciting and satisfactory. Maybe we dream of being that engineering whiz who goes on to brew cider, the way we dream of opening microbreweries in Portland or founding Facebook-esque start-ups or building shelters in underprivileged communities. For some of us, those dreams become realities.
And for everyone else? Well, Sedaris said it best: “Weird doors open.” We fall into things. And instead of being the straight-laced college kid who found his livelihood in something quirky and passionate and real, we’re the college kids with big dreams that get demoted into modest yet undeniably comfortable realities.
Yes, some of us would rather be chicken soup than Indian curry. And there’s no shame in being chicken soup. There’s nothing wrong with comfort, consistency and convention. A well-fitted suit precludes neither happiness nor fulfillment. After all, in reading the life reports, David Brooks found that, for the ’42 graduates, “family and friends mattered most.”
And that lesson — valuing the people around us — is something we can appreciate no matter what kind of soup we strive to be.
Marissa Medansky is a freshman in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.