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.