I recently finished Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library and just let me say, “Woah!”. If you haven’t heard of The Midnight Library or haven’t been lucky enough to get your hands on a copy, the most important bit to know is what exactly the Midnight Library is – the place people go when they find themselves hanging precariously between life and death and not entirely sure about which way to go (thank you, NPR for that succinct explanation!). This post isn’t a review of Haig’s work, but rather a reflection on what one book has meant to one person, albeit with the hope (and belief) that others (particularly other graduate students) will readily identify with it.
In many ways, graduate school becomes a place much like the Midnight Library. Not as dramatic, of course, as life and death, but for many, a place they land in when they don’t know which way to go. For others, that confusion occurs as part of the learning experience within graduate school itself. As someone about to wrap up their second master’s degree, believe me when I say I know the discomfort of not knowing which way to go, much in the way that Nora Seed, the protagonist of The Midnight Library, does. As I read Nora’s story of confronting lives not lived, I was reminded vividly of an icy February day when I sat in the Little Rock airport deciding my next steps. I had just returned home from a promising interview, one that I knew could drastically alter the course of both my life and my career. I also felt the weight of every one of the dozens of rejections that had preceded that interview. In that moment, I decided that, if that interview turned out like all the others and was a rejection, I had come to the end of that particular chapter and I would turn a new leaf. That new leaf would have included attending mortuary school and, presumably, embarking on a career as a mortician. However, unbeknownst to me, the hiring committee had already made a decision and, in a few days time, I would get the phone call I had been waiting for – it was a yes!
Life is messy and, as we work our way through graduate school (to say nothing of life itself) in this most uncertain of times, remember that you are living the moments that someday you will remember as your life story. Good, bad, or otherwise, the actions you are taking now (and not taking, as well) are shaping the path you will walk down. Don’t be afraid of it. But also, don’t carry the weight and unnecessary regret for the lives you haven’t led. In The Midnight Library, Nora learns how many of her what-ifs in life played out, often in ways that she never could have predicted or wanted. While we can’t be Nora and know how our other lives might have been, we can move forward, knowing that our path forward, however opaque it may be, is still ahead of us.
Nick Dean is a second-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works full-time as an academic advisor at a medical school and as a part-time employee at a medical library, both in the Kansas City metro.