The Italian language boasts a singularly excellent word that can be used in a variety of contexts and says it all in just five little letters: Basta!
To be fair to those of you more enchanted by Spanish than by Italian, you can find it there, too. In either language, basta means “enough!” That exclamation point is there for a reason. Basta is not your average, puny, English, “Oh, yes, thank you, I really couldn’t eat another bite, dear.” Basta is a firm, forceful, big-hand-gesture sort of word. It has weight. It has finality. It is not to be used lightly.
And I think it’s a word that we could use a bit more of in English.
I’ll give you one example, although I can think of several others. My final day on campus this semester was a few weeks ago (yes, I’ve been detoxing since then), and I was very excited to be on my way home. Before leaving town, though, one of the last things on my to-do list was picking up the competition packet for the Harvard Law Review. I planned to shove it in my shoulder bag shortly before hopping on the plane, leaving it to be dealt with sometime after I arrived at home.
Of course, the Harvard Law Review is kind of a big deal. The man who currently has the privilege of occupying space in the Oval Office (at least for another 971 days) was the law review’s president while in law school, and perhaps it’s for this reason that they take themselves so seriously. Their method of distributing the competition was certainly very orderly, with alphabetized lines and stickers corresponding to secret alphanumeric codes. I think there may even have been barcodes involved.
Several of my friends spent the past school year preparing for this competition by “subciting” for other campus journals. “Subciting” simply means checking the substance and citations of articles written by others—a glorified form of menial editing. However, I think if I had really wanted to prepare for the competition, I should have done more weightlifting. Standing at over 3.5 inches tall, the stack of paper weighed in at 7 pounds, 4 ounces—just shy of the average weight of a newborn child.
Unfortunately, it turned out that this was one child I was just not ready to have.
I’ll spare you the finer details of the competition, but it essentially combines an intense editing component with a more open writing component. Students are given a week to complete the competition, and if they’re already off campus, then it must be returned by post.
I had taken the weekend off and planned to start on Monday, but by the time Wednesday rolled around, I could already see that the delay had been fatal. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t bring myself to really focus on the competition, since I had just come out of the most grueling academic year of the eighteen I’ve had so far. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t really interested in joining the law review, but was simply going through the motions of completing the competition because that’s just what first-year law students do in May. And part of the problem was that I didn’t really want to spend the $40 it would have taken to send the whole paper mess back to Harvard by express mail.
Nevertheless, I did work endlessly on the competition for a couple of days. My family joked that they always knew where to find me because I hardly left the table where I had all the relevant papers spread before me. And at the end of those couple of days, I had nearly twenty pages covered with beautiful editing—a really fine job, if I do say so myself, and one that should have made any HLR editor proud.
But this amounted to only half of the editing competition, and the writing component of the competition still remained. At some point, I realized that I just didn’t have it in me. I really just didn’t care enough to pull through.
So on Wednesday night, after consulting with loved ones, my psychologist, and the family physician, I threw up my hands and said Basta! Enough. I had had enough law and enough school—indeed, enough law school—to last me until August, and I was simply… done. The Harvard Law Review would just have to struggle on without me.
In fact, reaching this decision was quite a struggle for me. I almost never give up on things in life; it’s something that really goes against my nature. I don’t typically give up on work, and I don’t give up on relationships. I was the kid who used to get books from the library and finish them even if I didn’t like them because, after all, I had brought them home. I was the student who would go back to the syllabus after taking a final exam and catch up on any course reading that I had skipped during the semester.
(Yeah, I know. Get a life, right?)
Probably no one likes to think of himself as a quitter, but the law review competition and other recent circumstances have shown me that there are times when it is perfectly acceptable to pound your fist on the table and say Basta! No more.
Sometimes, something is just too much. When you’ve reached your limit, it’s alright to say so. In such cases, saying “Enough!” is not weak; it’s strong. It’s saying that there is a line that you will not cross. It’s affirming that some things—your sanity, your love, your time with your family—are sacred, and cannot be interfered with. It’s acknowledging that it is not always possible to complete everything, handle everything, or accept everything that comes your way.
And in cases where the issue is not a task that cannot be completed, but rather treatment that can no longer be borne, then Basta means, “You have come this far, and will go no farther. You have exceeded my breaking point. If you thought this would be acceptable to me, you have seriously misjudged me—and I would caution you not to make the same mistake again.”
Because sometimes, enough is enough—and everyone should have the ability and the confidence to say so.