She ran her fingers through her hair, and felt a lack of hair to run through. In the last few months, the parasite of stress had grown in her and had taken a toll on her body. Noticeably on her hair, which had thinned down considerably, widening the parting and increasing the exposure of her scalp.
It was now three months since she had finished school and she hadn’t yet bagged a college admission. With each passing minute, the list of those getting into college grew longer, while her name acquired a missing in action status. This evening was particularly stressful, as she had just received the bittersweet news that her friend had gotten into the law college of her dreams. Not only that, she was even guaranteed an internship at a well-known law firm after completing her studies. Yes, she was definitely proud of her friend, but the news also took hold of the feelings of jealousy and panic in her.
Lost in the looming shadow of despair, she remained oblivious to the tears running down her face and its observation by her mother who had just entered the room.
“Hey, come on now. Crying about your future will get you nowhere!”
Her mother rushed to her and put an arm around her. This wasn’t the first time she had caught her daughter crying to herself. It was a frequent occurrence nowadays.
After spending a few minutes in the silent comfort of her mother, she gave a slobbery smile and sniffed.
“Thanks, I’m alright now, you can leave”.
“No you’re not. You’re clearly not alright. You need to understand that all of this, this rejection, this doubt, it’s all perfectly normal.” After a moment’s thought, her mother took her by her arms and led her to a shelf in the dining room.
“Tell me what you see”, her mother asked.
“The shelf..?” She replied, wondering where this was leading.
“Seriously, what is this fo-?”
“Describe it!” her mother ordered firmly.
“It’s a wooden shelf…packed with books and newspapers…, I don’t know…what do you want me to say?!”
“Would you say its contents are neatly arranged?”
“No, that’s the last thing anyone would say”.
“But would you call it messy?”
“No… Not really… Does this have a point?”
“Yes a point will be made”. Her mother sat down on the divan, took a deep breath, indicative that a long speech was going to follow.
“Your grandfather gifted me that shelf for my eighteenth birthday. As the carpenter nailed it onto the wall, your grandfather told me how the shelf marked my entrance into adulthood and I should use it wisely. Until then, I only had a study table to put my books on. I had to constantly shift my books from the table to the bed and back, and being gifted this shelf put an end to all that. This shelf was a huge deal. I felt legal and official. I remember spending my entire birthday evening planning a blueprint on what I would I put on the shelf, and how I would arrange it. I started working on it the next day. I categorised my books, labelled documents, and arranged them based on priority, thickness, and frequency of use. I ensured I used up the entire length and breadth of the shelf and didn’t leave any vacant space, because I needed the shelf to look important. An empty space would signify that I had space in my life for things not worthy of the shelf, and that was definitely not the case. I was an important person now. Every day I would admire this proof of my adulthood, run my hands over its almond brown wood and would take in a whiff of that fresh polish.
But the pride didn’t last long. Soon several more books and papers came barging into my life that needed a place on the shelf. In the beginning, I would empty out the shelf and reorganize the entire thing. When this became tiresome I stuffed books between others at crooked angles. Each time I pulled out a book, two others would tumble off the shelf. After a while I found myself yearning for the days when I carried my books back and forth between my table and the bed.” Her mother sighed and gave small smile. “You see what I’m trying to tell you?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders. “I’m completely lost”.
Her mother looked into the girl’s eyes, to make her daughter realise that she never wanted her to forget the words she was about to say. “Think of your life as this shelf. Regardless of how much you plan and organise, your life won’t go about in the arrangement you want. It’s alright if you don’t have every inch of your future planned out. There will be vacant spaces you won’t know how to fill. But that gives you room for the unexpected! Things will become messy and fall out of place, but in the due course of time they will fall back in line. And while it won’t be the arrangement you wished for, it will be something even better”.
The girl was taken aback by her mother’s words. She had never heard such profound advice before, and she had never expected it to come from her mother. For the first time in months she felt truly comforted, and believed things would be alright.
She looked back into her mother’s eyes and smiled.
“Thank you Ma”, she said with all sincerity, and hugged her. “I’m feeling much better about the empty spaces on my shelf”.