The Story of Mankind


March 13, 2012 by Jen

Only in the twisted world that is graduate school applications does the potential to receive a rejection letter constitute cause for wild celebration.

What a weird world it is.

Also a little frightening.

Over the weekend, I logged on to check the status of my remaining application. When I did, I discovered a secondary financial aid application that I had not completed prior to the December deadline. Instead of waiting to verify that I had in fact ruined my chances of admission, I panicked, choosing to believe the worst.

Receiving a rejection is one thing; sabotaging your own efforts by making a careless mistake is something else entirely. It would be the understatement of the year to say that I handled the “news” badly. In so many ways.

Today, I called to confirm the information, only to find that I was most likely mistaken. According to the individuals with whom I spoke, the financial aid application should not affect the admissions decision. Consequently, although I may receive a rejection letter in the mail today, it should not be the result of my absentmindedness (cover letter typo withstanding).

That knowledge should be tremendously freeing, and in part, it is.

At the same time, the situation forces me to look closely at the kind of person I become when I fail or am disappointed or make mistakes. (Having been privy for fifteen years to my own bad sportsmanship when I lose on the field, I should know already.) Yes, there is a lot at stake in this application process, so perhaps my frustration is understandable. These are my future plans, after all. Then again, is that really an excuse? If nothing else, I think this weekend has been something of a wake-up call about how much of my identity and sense of self-worth I attach to my career plans.

Appropriately, it was a work of literature that captured my feelings particularly well.

I’m currently reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Somehow I missed it in high school, but I think I’m glad of that fact. I can appreciate its six hundred pages so much more now. Today, I read an exchange about humanity’s obsession with two Bible stories: the Fall, and Cain and Abel. Attempting to explain this fascination, Lee says, “No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us. What a great burden of guilt men have! … We gather our arms full of guilt as though it were precious stuff. It must be that we want it that way.”

He goes on, “The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt–and there is the story of mankind.”

Ah, yep. Mine too.

To be fair, I haven’t finished the book yet, and I suspect, knowing Steinbeck, that it will get even more complicated. Likewise, I know myself well enough to be aware that this momentary epiphany will not “fix” my insecurities in the least.

Having said that, in this particular moment, I am taking some measure of comfort from Lee’s subsequent statement: “It isn’t simple at all … It’s desperately complicated. But at the end there’s light.”

One thought on “The Story of Mankind

  1. suen says:

    …wherein Jen has learned all that is worth learning in grad school, and more…

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