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Stop Complaining About Middle Earth

9 Feb 2010

This picture doesn't really have anything to do with the post. I just think it's funny.

Middlebury, Vermont feels like Tolkein’s Middle Earth. At least kind of, in a way, except, you know, just, like, the only minor differences being that it’s hellishly cold and not at all magical. I almost forgot how much the wind tends to ignore my jacket’s existence.

But I complain too much. A certain person has attuned me to this realization, and on a more serious note, I am thankful for her.

She was a stranger, and what’s more, somewhat of a bitch. Our relationship had begun peacefully enough, as we quietly read — she with a food-related novel and myself with the The Big Sleep — alongside one another on the rickety express jet from Philadelphia to Burlington. Once we landed in relatively good health, the woman casually asked me where I was headed. I explained to her my situation, that I would have to take an hour-long shuttle ride from Burlington to the nowhere-town of Middlebury. More like Middle o’ Nowhere. More like Middleburied, more like Middle Earth.

At this point, more as a way of civil conversation than genuine expression — or at least I think — I scowled kiddingly and said it was a huge pain, having to endure that damned shuttle to Middle Earth. To this the woman lifted her eyebrows, all smirk-faced and dramatic: “Oh, it’s such a huge pain. One whole hour, God forbid the school prepares a shuttle for you to return. You are so spoiled.”

I looked at her, scanning her facial expression, rehearsing her tone in my brain, a flailing attempt to grasp the motivation behind such harsh words. Even now, I’m still uncertain whether she was an asshole or merely playful. I guess sarcasm was neither my forte in failing to recognize her genius subtlety, nor hers in botching her attempt to joke amiably. In any case, I made to justify myself. The issue of economics was always an effective defense. And timely, too.

“No, it’s not a free shuttle. Nothing’s free these days. You have to call in and pay.”

“Oh no, you have to call in” — I nodded, egged on by…sympathy? — “that’s miserable that you have to pick up a phone and your parents have to pay for you.” No, of course, she’d turned it up a level.

I’d protest her pegging me for a financially-comfortable, liberal arts college student, except for the fact that she was right. And despite her insensitive condescension and my irritation, I could not deny the sort of excess in my lifestyle that my seemingly harmless complaint had reflected. So thank you, Miss, for being a well-intentioned motherly figure or a dick. Either way, it worked.

I am reminded of a thought I stumbled on from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

Really, I should be infinitely grateful I can return to Middle Earth at all. The Elves can’t even do that once they’ve set off for the Undying Lands.

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