Steven was at the part of his day when he stared out the window of his school's math analysis classroom. This had become a ritual from 2:45pm-3:30pm since the middle of the second week of school, and though the trees he could spot from the second-story classroom remained relatively unchanged, looking at them allowed him to feel more freedom than pretending to pay attention. He felt that if he were betraying his future knowledge of higher-level mathematics, he may as well do it with some assertiveness. "If you're going to fail, fail with dignity," as his middle school history teacher had always said.
It was the middle of October, and the rest of the senior class was swept up in the frenzy of applying to colleges and deciding upon a respectable future, but Steven was unable to motivate himself to do the same. Every one of his potential prospects for the future seemed equally unappealing to him, and this created a quiet, underlying tone of anxiety in his life which he liked to pretend did not exist.
But it was a peaceful Thursday afternoon, school would be over in twelve minutes, and Steven was lost in the leaves swishing gracefully from side to side in the wind. The only part of the future that was on his mind was his plan to visit the new park that had opened in his neighborhood earlier that morning. There was a colorful swing set, a sandbox with a seesaw, and a collection of wooden benches under the oak trees, and Steven felt comforted by the childhood memories the park had brought up.
The minutes passed gradually but eventually the bell rang, and Steven soon found himself on a sturdy bench, trying to complete his homework but really listening in on a conversation between a man in an expensive looking hat and a woman wearing a collection of dangly jewelry around her neck.
"There is no way you sincerely believe that the sole purpose of that whole book was for the author to vent about the purposelessness of human existence."
"There is no way you sincerely believe that the book's ending hinted at any other overarching lesson. It's called The Ragged Suitcase, what was it supposed to be, a story about the infinite opportunities a person can have in their life?," the man responded.
"Ok, look at this quote," the woman said as she held a finger up to the middle of the page, tracing the line as she read, "In the end, those who feel will die either with a smile or a frown on their face, and those who think will pass with a pointedly blank expression.' You think the author was only implying that the truest mark of wisdom is dying looking like a sheet of paper?"
"I think he was trying to convey that feeling is what people do when they want to bring meaning to their lives, but in the end, those who spend time thinking about the way people exist conclude that everything greater and bigger and more meaningful does not exist here," the man concluded, his eyes scanning across the park and finally settling upon the woman before him.
At this point, Steven had an urge to join in because he had read the first chapter of that very book earlier that year, and interpreted the quote differently.
"Not that I agree with him," the man added. "The author may have been a Nihilist, or depressed, or maybe both."
"Um," Steven interjected from a few feet away, and both heads turned toward him, "sorry to interrupt, but isn't it possible that the author was just remarking upon the different ways people choose to lead their lives? Maybe the reader's interpretation is more valuable than the author's opinion," Steven hesitantly finished.
"Hah!," the woman responded with a nod to the man, "that does make sense; you're a total pessimist. Of course you'd want people to realize that whatever comes after death is tenfold better than life." She turned back to Steven. "I like you. Will - she jabbed her finger in the man's direction - and I are part of a book club. You should join us for a meeting, if you'd like. It gets pretty heated when you're surrounded by idiots," she said flatly, with the hint of a smirk.
"Erm, okay," the man smiled at Steven as if sharing an inside joke, "we idiots meet in the library down the block on Fridays at noon. Although," he said, glancing at Steven's backpack and books," you look like you're somewhat burdened by that tiny thing called secondary education."
"No, no, I can make it. It sounds like a good time," Steven replied with a smile. "I'm Steven, by the way."
"Eileen," the woman exchanged, "and you and I should stick together. You don't frustrate me yet."
"Until tomorrow, then," Will said with a tip of his hat, and he and Eileen turned away, resuming discussion.
Steven had by now decided he'd stop by the library, finish the book, and head to the meeting instead of going to school. These people had a friendly, spontaneous nature about them that was more intriguing than his chemistry class, which incidentally also happened on Fridays at noon. Besides, he thought to himself, wasn't part of the point of education learning how to prioritize information intake? He began packing up his books (now that he did not need to finish his homework by tomorrow). It wasn't as if his school were doing nearly as much as these two strangers were to spike his curiosity and compel him to participate in discussion. He walked home that afternoon with a spring in his step, picking up a copy of The Ragged Suitcase on his way there. Steven, for once, did not dread his future. For some bizarre reason, he felt as if the solutions to his problems were slowly being fixed, like cards that had been lying face-down for years with dust collecting on their backs, but were gently being turned over by a delicate hand. Yes, thought Steven, he could afford to miss a day of school for this.