“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
I graduated from university one year ago today. In the evening, parties over, my family and I traipsed across the Downs to watch the sky burn orange – a sunset see-you-soon to a city I had truly loved. The entire day was one of bittersweet celebration. In many ways, lovely – a marker of four years of hard work, adventure, growth. The piece of paper clutched deliciously between our hands was a marker of all we had seen and learnt over the course of a degree that we had poured ourselves into. Sad, too – the story had reached its natural conclusion, the tale of these four years and our friendships. Our paths had reached a crossroads, and the majority of us had chosen different directions. There were tears, kisses, innumerable photographs, sobbing embraces, choked see-you-soons and hearty congratulations, gowns that billowed as we raced up the hill. Even as it was happening, I knew I would always remember it. As the afternoon wore on, we sat around a table beneath an apple tree, eating strawberries and collecting prizes, watching our now-former professors mill around the gardens.
It’s hard to believe a year has passed since that sweltering July day. It feels both an eternity and no time at all, which is exactly what I wrote about my years at university this time last year. Much has changed this past year – a new full-time job, dreams fulfilled, a goodbye to a person I once loved dearly, short plane rides, long plane rides, new faces, new pastimes, and old ones too. I have watched with interest as my former classmates and friends have each pursued their own singular path and chosen a fig (for now) from the tree. Some having gone on to further study, others to faraway countries. Still others are retraining, becoming engaged, moving to new cities or across the sea.
For parts of the twelve months separating the then and the now, I have felt much like our protagonist in the proverbial fig tree: paralysed by indecision, my synapses a fried jumble of hopes and dreams and anxiety about the future. Yet despite some of its difficulties, I am thankful for these past twelve months in a myriad of ways. I have felt both incredibly humbled, but also empowered by the lessons I am learning along the way. (Sorry, that was sappy, but so am I!) I also don’t wish to dishonour what has, equally, been a wonderful year. I have travelled more than I ever would have thought possible combined with a full-time job, pursued some of my long-held goals, made new friends and reunited with the best old ones after four years apart. I am building a life I enjoy here in London. Who knows if I shall stay? For now, though, I am happy here.
And as time passes, I feel more and more as if the very beauty of life lies in its unknowns. Perhaps we can have all our figs and eat them too. More likely, the very act of choosing is the best bit of it all. It is its very own mystery – for which branch will I, you, we all, choose? Our lives are wide open and ripe for the picking. Who knows what even this next year will hold? Nobody tells you how frightening the prospect of all that choice can seem, but I’ve come to think it’s awfully thrilling too. To fig trees and education and the future, I say!
Did you graduate recently too? Do you ever sympathise with our friend in the fig tree?