I will be spending the 2011-2012 academic year in Israel, traveling the country, volunteering and learning to live communally with others in a program sponsored by the progressive Zionist youth movement, Habonim Dror. I’ve always known that this particular itinerary was one in which I was interested, but the decision to take a gap year was not an easy one. How could I interrupt society’s sacred track, with its prescription of stopping neatly at the stations of “high school,” “college,” and “career?” I have no qualms about jumping off the train, rather my fear manifests itself in my personal life: my friends, my family, myself.
How will I be able to resume my studies with confidence after a year abroad? How will I sleep at night, knowing that my mother’s youngest son has chosen to leave home and go thousands of miles away, at her monetary and emotional expense? Will I have the willpower to stay in touch with the few truly great friends I’ve made in high school?
The doubt raised by my first question can be squelched the most easily, for I have been in school for most of my life, and have never questioned my own academic integrity; the skills my excellent teachers have taught me cannot easily be forgotten. The other two questions, however, are harder to resolve.
Every pro-con graph I’ve drawn up has crystallized into a struggle between two ideas: guilt and regret. Guilt for leaving my family behind while spending their money to pause my traditional education, and guilt for leaving my school friends simultaneously behind me, yet a year ahead of me in university.
Regret flows from one monumental notion: the way I would feel for an indefinable period if I didn’t take this opportunity to explore myself and the world in a unique place, at a once-in-a-lifetime point in my life. What’s more, I’ll be doing this program with a group of people I’ve gotten to know over the years and grown to love as if they were family.
Ultimately, I think regret trumps guilt in terms of consequences. Guilt usually involves another person who can forgive you in time, or is shrouded and forgotten by the veil of new experiences. Regret, however, is intrinsically personal. Others may be involved, but the weight of the “what ifs” and “if onlys” falls upon the one who regrets. Regretted moments exist sequestered in their own worlds, and are infinitely less accessible than any method that absolves guilt.
So see you in Israel!
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