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The Butterfly’s Dream: A High Schoolers Quest for Tranquility in a World of Expectations

The Butterfly’s Dream: A High Schoolers Quest for Tranquility in a World of Expectations

“He was late for school again. He still behaved like a 10-year-old.” I overheard my mother venting to my father about my latest escapade. I knew she was right. Her frustration was palpable as she recounted the call from the dean about my tardiness.

“Patrick, you have to get organized and plan ahead,” she admonished me. “You’re a high school student, not a child anymore.”

Like most of the grownups in my life, my mother is a fascinating creature, at once intelligent and inconsistent. On the one hand, she nudges my brother and me to prioritize tasks and strategize for the future, imploring us to focus on our schoolwork so we might one day secure a good job. And yet, on the other hand, she is constantly delving into philosophy books about the importance of living in the present, surrendering to the universe, and untethering oneself from expectations and desires.

As confounding to me is why one would rush to the school to dissect the soliloquies of Macbeth on the occasion of Lady Macbeth’s demise when, instead, I could lose myself in the boundless blue sky adorned with ethereal clouds that meander with a purpose all their own. More intriguingly still, while my school claims to champion independent thought, in truth, it perpetuates a rigid set of norms and regulations upon us. All these clubs we have to join, the internships we have to pursue, the not-for-profit we have to set up – all in service of an immaculate resume that will gain us admission into an esteemed Ivy League institution.

I recall encountering a passage positing that man is born free; however, it appears he is in chains everywhere. My dean, well-versed in German philosophy from her own days of study, should be intimately acquainted with the notion that “In every real man, a child is hidden that wants to play.” Yet, it seems her aim is to stifle or even obliterate this child. Consequently, rather than frolicking among the pigeons in Central Park, I find myself sequestered in a cramped, windowless room grappling with the enigma of existence: how life often resembles sound and fury; and how nonetheless, we should strive for achievement and acclaim.

Thankfully, the 10-year-old inside me is free to roam through the realms of the forbidden while my 15-year-old body endeavors to heed the wise words of my educators. Life may well be a tale told by an idiot, but undoubtedly the universe was crafted by a supreme being. Who else could conceive of the autumnal hues that blanket Central Park, the mellifluous patter of rain against the windowpane on a sultry summer evening, or the heavenly taste of a freshly baked cookie from the Levain bakery down the street?

For the more jaded or difficult-to-impress high school students, one needs only gaze upon the celestial bodies that twinkle like precious gems against the inky expanse of the night sky, each a reminder of the infinite possibilities that exist beyond our imagination. Our city is also a wonderland of sensory delights, replete with myriad sights, sounds, and fragrances.

Trees stretch their limbs heavenward while leaves whisper secret verses to the wind. Birds flit from branch to branch, singing their sweet melodies, and nimble squirrels, like mischievous dancers, frolic upon the stage of nature’s theater. The fragrance of blossoming flowers and newly shorn lawn intermingles, composing a sonata of natural perfumes. The savory smell of hot dogs and pretzels from street vendors meanders through the air, enticing the unsuspecting passerby. The sizzling aroma of pizza baking in brick ovens draws my steps toward the welcoming embrace of the storefronts. The sound of honking horns and screeching brakes fill the city streets, a chaotic symphony that somehow manages to make sense. I would hear the clatter of footsteps on the pavement, the chatter of voices in a dozen different languages, and the occasional burst of laughter or song from a street performer, all weaving into the rich tapestry of our urban existence.

My brother dismisses my introspection as a sign of peculiarity and declares me autistic. After all, I did not utter a word until the age of three. Besides, apart from someone potentially on the spectrum, who would dedicate the initial 30 minutes of a science exam to a bonus question only because it looked interesting?

My brother, in contrast, embodies the archetype of the overachiever with a flawless academic record and a commendable array of extracurricular pursuits. He is organized and driven, speaks the language of hope and change, and is poised to make the world a better place. He teases me often, though it does not bother me, for he brings my mother joy, especially when he wins another random award. At times, I have contemplated conforming to his image – docile, obedient, and conventional – particularly when I glimpse the disappointment in my mother’s eyes.

Yet, there has to be more to life than a thriving career in private equity or tech startups. I ponder whether our modern society’s emphasis on productivity and efficiency is misguided. If the pursuit of happiness serves as our paramount objective, is there a genuine necessity for ever-taller skyscrapers, ever-faster microchips, or ever-more-human-like ChatGPT?

A few days ago, I had an epiphany after reading a Washington Post article on the American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It reveals that loggers and foresters enjoy some of the happiest, least stressful, and most meaningful vocations. I am not advocating a return to a hunter-gatherer existence, for I love my microwaved popcorn and Star Wars movies, but surely the scent of pine sap will instantly transport me to a place of tranquility. I have resolved to hone my axe-throwing, log-pushing, and crosscut-sawing skills, though I shall keep these ambitions hidden from my parents and teachers.

We are encouraged to pursue our passions, but only if those passions conform to society’s prescribed standards of success. I fully intend to become the first graduate from my school to forge a career as a lumberjack and dwell in a secluded forest cabin, a haven that others might visit only during their holidays. Perhaps, one evening in the cabin, I shall dream, much like Zhuangzi, an ancient Chinese sage, that I have metamorphosed into a butterfly, delicately fluttering about, savoring the nectar of blossoming flowers, and surrendering to the capricious dance of the cosmos, unburdened by thoughts of the future or the past. Zhuangzi awakens, uncertain whether he is a man who dreamt of being a butterfly or a butterfly now dreaming it is a man. I, too, will likely awaken to my mother’s voice, inquiring, “Patrick, when will you grow up?” If only she could perceive the world through my eyes.

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