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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Column: Driving toward a foreseeable end

With one last semester, it’s time to live both big and small.

Nate Atkins

Jan. 22, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Somewhere during the last cross-country trip I’ll ever make to college, my mind went blank, and all I could think about were the headlights of someone I’ll probably never meet.

They belonged to a white pickup truck that started following me in the daylight, around the midway point of my nine-hour drive from Columbus, Ohio, to Columbia, Mo. They followed me into the darkness, too. For whatever reason, I was hoping they’d never leave.

I watched them at a time when two headlights on an interstate through rural Illinois shouldn’t have even occupied space in my mind. I had wanted this trip to be one last solitary conference with myself, something it has always been. This was the final time I’d drive nine hours all alone toward a new semester at MU. I’ll be graduating in May, and I’m writing this column because I’m not quite ready to let this stage of life go without some heightened understanding.

And it starts so simply, with headlights on an interstate that I wanted to stay in my rearview mirror. For the better part of three hours, they followed me as I split forks in the road or merged past sluggish semis in the dark. They followed until I was the one who had to leave the road for a rest stop. As I merged right, I looked left to see headlights turn into taillights. Even after three straight hours, it felt like the truck was there and then gone all too fast.

Attachment is confounding. The object we latch onto doesn’t always feel right, but we hold on tight because we’re more afraid of what we’ll fall into without it.

Attachment is comfort. It’s what allows bad relationships to sputter without end, awful habits to define us and moves to bigger and better places to leave a small hole in who we are. We stick to it without end and often without purpose because, as it weaves with other attachments that fill our days, it helps to fill out the lives we choose to lead.

It is for this reason that I continue to work out as often as I do, four years after I stopped playing sports. I find myself having to have it, and not really knowing why. But through fitness, I’ve learned something about life: constant repetition at something so ordinary increases the chances of noticing something extraordinary.

In my final semester here at MU, I want to try a little of both. I want to savor the picturesque moments: graduation, spring break, moving away. And I want to find something equally satisfying in the spaces in between: the pages of an unread book at Ellis Library; the words of a crazy man in Speakers Circle; the hours of waiting in line for basketball tickets for one last season at the Zou. I want, as Missourian editor Katherine Reed always told me, to notice what I notice.

I’m writing this column to feed two different final desires. I want to document the moments I’ll never get back. And I want its regular presence in my life to remind me that this, all of this, is really a cog in the machine of a much greater development.

In this space, once a week, I’ll flip back and forth between the past and the present. I’ll rehash the memories I’ll never forget. And I’ll do what I can, whatever I can, to make new ones to write down, cherish, laugh at and someday leave behind.

You’re all welcome to join me along the way.

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