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December 5, 2006

If there were only six months left...

Some time during the stress of exam preparation (currently three exams down, one to go), I watched a talk show where one of the topics was: "What would you do if you only had six months left to live?" The discussion wasn't particularly interesting, but that opening question was. At the time, I was feeling guilty every day I didn't study at the University from 8AM to 8PM, constantly worrying that I wasn't worrying enough about my frighteningly near future. I thought: "Well, I wouldn't have to take those exams if I only had six months left - and would that be a good thing?" Bored with the discussion on the tv screen, the turned to my laptop screen and wrote what first came into my head. I didn't write it for this blog, or really for anyone but myself, but oh well, here it is:

If I found out that I only had six months to live, there isn’t much I would change about my life style. I would still spend the majority of my time reading, quite possibly at the university, but I would only read what I felt like reading – novels, newspapers, textbooks for random subjects I would never have thought of studying before – instead of signing up for three or four subjects that I need to complete a major. I would tell as few people as possible that this was no ordinary semester – if I could get away with it, I wouldn’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t want them to treat me differently. My closest friends would know of course, but only because they had to. After all, I couldn’t just tell them that I was dropping out of my bachelor studies, that I had decided I had no ambition to do anything with my life beyond reading for classes I wasn’t taking. I would follow the classes I felt like following, reading the required books and going to lectures. No one would have to know that I didn’t plan on taking any exams.


Freed from the obligation of actually having to prepare for my future, I would spend more time with friends. I would meet them when they had the time, instead of the way it is now, where we compare busy calendars and hope they show empty space on the same dates. I wouldn’t worry so much about getting enough sleep or eating the right food or not wasting money. I still wouldn’t be rich, but if I used my savings, I would have more than enough. I would buy people the Christmas presents I really wanted them to have. I would buy the clothes I really wanted to wear. Maybe I would quit my job so that I could have Saturdays off. But then again, I could have any day of the week off if I wanted to. I would have more dinner parties. I would have more parties. I would stay later at parties that I was enjoying without worrying about sleep, and leave parties where I wasn’t having fun, without worrying about seeming impolite or boring. I would eat at fancy restaurants more often. I would go the movies, on my own if no one else was available, when there was something I wanted to see. I would spend more time in used bookstores, wishing I could read everything, but finding some strange joy in at least reading every title. I would spend whatever time was necessary to read all the books friends and family have recommended to me over the past few years.

Why wouldn’t I spend my last six months traveling the world? Even if I could afford it, who would go with me? I wouldn’t want to be alone, while experiencing so many exciting things. I wouldn’t want to spend time waiting for buses and trains and flights, forgetting my belongings along the way, wondering what my friends would say if they were with me. And I wouldn’t want someone to take a semester off to spend it with me, just because I was going to die soon. No, I would stay where I am now, but take some short vacations – expensive weekend trips to European capitals, a visit or two to my friend in France, a few weeks in Massachusetts to say good-bye to the places where I grew up. I’m not sure if I would have time to go to China again, or to India or Japan or any African or South American country; maybe if I found out I had a whole year.

I suppose what I should say is that I would spend my last six months doing charity work or saving the world in some way, since I didn’t have to worry about money. I would certainly try to do something, maybe exchanging my current Saturday job for volunteer work somewhere where I was actually needed. But it would have to be in Oslo. I wouldn’t be willing to spend my last six months far away from my friends and family. This is arguably a selfish choice, but I think I would be entitled to a little selfishness if I were dying.

About six months later, the University of Oslo would be starting the spring 2007 exams. My friends would be anxious and sleep-deprived, and I would be happy whenever I could pretend to someone that I was stressed about exams too. I would be stressed though, but in the way much worse than I can really imagine now. I would be thinking: “If my friends don’t finish this book by tomorrow, they won’t know what they need to know for an exam, but if I don’t finish this book by tomorrow, I will never know how it ends. If I don’t see this movie soon, I never will. If I don’t have lunch with this person now, I may never have the chance to see them again.” At that time, I would wish that I didn’t know, that I had signed up for the boring subjects and was getting ready for the difficult exam and that I was falling asleep over my notes and spending coffee breaks staring out the window, shaking my head and murmuring: “This will never work out,” without any idea that it didn’t matter. I would miss the sense of accomplishment and moving forwards that comes with preparing for an exam, even when you don’t feel ready. I would remind people that: “Hey, you’re doing this out of your own free will. This is something you want to do, for fun!” and they would shake their heads at me and ask if I was trying to make it worse. But if I could really choose, I wouldn’t want to know ahead of time that I only had six months. I would gladly choose the stress of preparing for the future over the stress of not having one.

Posted by Julie at December 5, 2006 5:26 PM

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yup. ja. . ja.

Posted by: per ivar at December 5, 2006 11:39 PM

Det kan være at jeg er litt ekstra hormonell og ustabil nå midt oppi eksamenstida. Men jeg sitter nå her på UB og holder tårene tilbake. Dette var veldig rørende, lille venn!

Posted by: Ingvild at December 7, 2006 11:30 AM


Posted by: heidi karethe at December 7, 2006 9:30 PM