Over the course of many lunches in the past year or so, my friend Michael enlightened me with his theories and philosophies on life. “Brooks’ Laws,” he calls them, and the numbered system has points applicable to just about any element of life and the world.
One particularly impressed me, and while I don’t remember its exact number or wording, I’ll do my best to paraphrase: There’s no learning without mistakes.
As someone who’s made more mistakes in three years than most people do in their lives, I can attest to the law’s truth. But as I try to weigh my life’s mistakes by his rule, I find two things lacking; call them “Schwartz’s Laws” if you will: Life is about when and where you place your periods, and living is what comes after.
The most obvious (and certainly dumbest) mistake that I made at the University is undoubtedly the force that guided me since, helping me become who I am now. To put it delicately, my roommate and I didn’t get along too well freshman year. It was rough from the start and got progressively worse as the year went along. After a particularly frustrating experience, I did something pretty stupid. I sent an e-mail to a mailing list of friends that contained one particularly foolish line. Long story short, he saw it, got mad and got me kicked out of the lovely confines of Alice Lloyd Residence Hall. So you can say that my e-mail effectively put a period on my life as a dorm resident.
Did I learn my lesson? Sort of – I recognize that it was a stupid thing to do, and though I’ll contend that it was harmless and blown way out of proportion, I certainly never did it again.
Michael’s law does hold up to a degree. But where it falls short is a result of the necessity to strive for learning. I didn’t want to learn anything in the weeks following the incident – I just wanted to save my neck and go on with life. Like many people in similar situations, I was willing to bypass the lesson while running away from repercussions.
The remaining weeks of freshman year found me living on a friend’s couch and having the time of my life. It also strengthened my resolve to become a fixture at the Daily. For the first three-quarters of the year, being in my room was so miserable that I chose to live at the Daily. Without the first option, the Daily became an even bigger part of my life.
People may choose colleges because of the academic reputation, but the real learning most of us do is seldom in classrooms or lecture halls. I grew up by working until 3 a.m. at 420 Maynard St. and followed it up with some extra credit at Fleetwood Diner.
I’d say I’m a better, more complete and capable person since the e-mail incident, but not necessarily because of it. That brings me back to “Schwartz’s Laws.”
When you make a potentially life-changing mistake, you need to put a period on the incident to move on. The question, though, is what you do afterwards. As a response to being sent packing (literally), I chose positive living instead of negative rehashing and “learning.”
Like so many people, I’ve been through numerous stages in college. Each one ended with a period, placed with discrimination. In other words, essential to growing is knowing when a phase is really over, and not just throwing around periods willy-nilly. For example, each semester I put a period on each of that term’s courses. Each April I said goodbye to friends who were graduating. In January 2002, I put a period on my time as a sportswriter at the Daily. I was done with it, and moved onto other things.
But it’s what comes next that’s important. What you do with your education long after your final exam is what matters (that one’s for you, Mom and Dad). My friendships have survived many graduations, and will surely thrive for years to come. A few paragraphs from now, when I put the last period on my tangible connection to the Daily, it won’t signal the end of my emotional tie to the most important institution at this university, and the place where I got nearly all of my education at Michigan.
When I graduate in 19 days (knock on wood), my life, like it has so many times, will become a capital letter waiting to start a new sentence. That’s when it gets exciting. That’s living.
Living is looking back while simultaneously moving forward. Living is holding on to the things that will make the future brighter. Living is understanding that there is no learning until you make mistakes, but realizing, to quote the movie, that “everything that is past is prologue to this.”
Living is making your periods matter. Now, 21 years after my first capital letter, I’m ready to try it again.
Jon Schwartz wants to thank everyone who helped him live and learn over the past four years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.