Illuminate Yourself

“I want to express my-self.””I understand this.””I’m looking for my voice.””It is in your mouth.” -Everything Is Illuminated That exchange between protagonist and author Jonathan Safran Foer and his Ukrainian translator Alex in Everything is Illuminated is thrown into a conversation written in a single paragraph that spans three pages. It’s an easy few sentences to lose amidst quotation marks and Alex’s bro-ken, hilarious, yet well-intentioned Eng-lish. This is fitting considering the way that its meaning often escapes us, particularly as college students. It seems to be that we often spend so much time trying to find “ourselves”, as if it’s hidden under a rock or in some far-off country. Foer is a young, aspiring writer that travels to the Ukraine to find the woman that saved his grandfather from the Nazis during the Holocaust – and he’s a lot like many of us. Whether it’s college, another state or the Ukraine, immediately after graduat-ing high school we are charged with the task of having the next few years of our lives to find ourselves, to find our identity and to figure out what the hell we’re going to do with our lives. Assuming you are completely average, you graduated high school at 18 and will get married at 25, which gives you seven years to look for how you will define your-self for the next 50 years (assuming you die at the average age). While no price can be put on the expe-riences one would have while at college, traveling, working, meeting people or whatever, it seems important to remem-ber that no one experience, however en-lightening and transcendent is going to change what you came there as. It seems to me that the problem is that when we go off on these journeys, we ex-pect things. We want to be transformed and to return a much different, more pro-found, and more assured person, a result of some higher clarification that inevita-bly came upon us while there. This, to me, is a problem. We shouldn’t expect things from other people or desti-nations. We can’t expect to be told what our voices are, or how to express our-selves from some third party. If 500 sets of hands all mold and shape some clay into 500 different shapes, some hideous, some beautiful and some medio-cre, even if bits and pieces are added, at the core, they are all manipulating the same lump of clay. I realize the hypocrisy here. A 21 year-old student who doesn’t have the faintest clue what he’s doing this weekend much less with his life, writing about how to decide what to do with yours. I by no means have it figured out, but I’m a bit less stressed about the search than I was before I thought about this. When Foer went to the Ukraine, he was looking to be inspired, to find himself, for some invisible hand to come down and mold him into the most beautiful, expres-sive shape possible. But it took one of the simplest responses to one of the most com-mon questions of twenty-somethings with no idea what to do with their lives, for him to find what was with him all along.