A path through a dark forest.

June 5, 2024, by UoN School of English

The Balancing Path

University, the land of opportunity. You finally crested the hill of qualifications, applications, decisions, and dilemmas; it’s time to choose your own path. You breathe a sigh of relief and gaze out at the horizon ahead; its shifting colours and flashes of light are indistinct, but promising. As September arrives and the leaves start to fall, you take that first step out onto the path you have chosen. It’s broad and welcoming, flat as far as the eye can see. A step here, a skip, there, excitement brims as you flit along in your freedom. Your eyes drink in the horizon, its bright, shifting patterns and colours draw you ever nearer but never fully sharpen into focus. Whispers on the wind blowing towards you whisper of careers and houses, travel and adventures.

As the temperature drops and Mariah Carey’s voice echoes ever closer, you check on the path in your peripherals. Your heart jumps as you realise that the path begins to narrow, the sides crumbling away until only a thin line remains. You pause for a moment, but the path waits for no one. You must set one foot in front of the other. Your smile falters as the edges creep ever closer to your steps. The more you stare into the horizon for comfort, the more path disappears in your peripherals.

The horizon. Always look towards the horizon. One more step.

You reach your arms out either side, balancing. As you walk you feel one arm weighted with the growing deadlines of academia. A paper here, a conference there, if it’s only paper, why is it so heavy? You scoop up a new hobby with the other hand, and you continue, balanced.

One more step.

You glance behind you and see you’re not alone on the path. Something else lurks there. It might trip you at any moment. It’s long tendrils of bills and appointments, repairs and receipts, reach out towards you. Ever reaching closer and closer. Your throw a shield on your back made of pay-cheques and they keep the tendrils at bay. You’re still balanced… for now.

One more step.

You may be balanced, but the weight of your hobbies and studies, your shield of part-time work, has weighed you down more. The path, only a foot-width wide, starts to crack and crumble further with each step. You see it before you all the way to the horizon, now no more than a wire. Either side, the darkness waits.

One more step.

You smile as you pick up more social events, a night out here and a lunch date there. But one eye must always be kept on the path. You stretch your arms out further either side, reaching for something to hold onto. Your hands clutch and clasp the air around you, instead of help, you find only a new reading group in one desperate fist and a volunteering commitment in the other. The tendrils behind are starting to break through your shield. You watch the horizon with watering eyes as you toss more part-time pay-cheques over your shoulder to beat off the bills.

One more step.

You juggle your burden between your arms. Perhaps a bit of reshuffling will balance the load. But you must not slow. The path waits for no one. But the burden never dwindles. On your next step you hit a small bump in the path, you had been so focused on the weight in your arms, you’re not ready for it. You jolt at the bump, and feel yourself falling. Your eyes finally tear away from the horizon and you look straight into the void around you. Your arms reach out to grasp all that you were carrying as it starts falling away from you. But it’s not a hobby or a club that you find, but an outstretched hand. As you reach for it and hold on, your foot stretches out for its next step and you find that it is not a void that you are staring into, but another path, wide and welcoming. Hands reach out to help you with your load. You sigh with relief as you take another confident step forwards. You feel you should look at the horizon, but you can’t tear your eyes away from the shifting colours of light which shine on the path ahead. Walking, you realise you don’t need to look into the distance, you can enjoy the path, wherever it’s taking you.

— Francesca Roma, PhD in Old Norse Literature

Image credits: Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Posted in Student Words