And Indeed There Will Be Time

I would have a day all to myself.

For it had been a while since the last one, and I deserved it. I would have a day to myself, starting with a little cup of coffee and an early morning run. The air was always special in the mornings, energized by a whisper of sun. Beautiful and crisp and yet faintly overpowering, existing around me as it always did; rising, falling, filling my lungs, all without me noticing. It was the middle of June. Everything slowed down, except the always-busy folks who were constantly accelerating, pushing forward with all of their might as if time would pass too quickly should they take a single moment to pause.

Having lived in suburbia for so long, the neighborhoods began to blend together. Charming little communities, I always realized; here, a bed of hydrangeas, violet-pink, light, vibrant, though perhaps a bit forgotten, breathed near the sidewalk corner. It asked to be noticed; accidentally, I relented. It was June, and in the next few hours the heat would rise to an uncomfortable degree. Slowly, gently, the day passed on without much further activity from me. Every color in the sky began congealing together, signaling the night’s arrival. In the distance, still, remained an arc of orange, a little tangerine slice displaced amongst the stars.

It was really starting to get late, and I had done very, very little. I hoped I had not just wasted a day. I sat down for a while, enjoying how simple everything was. (Or was I just being complacent? The thought scared me a bit; suddenly, I felt awfully old, unsure, impatient.) I had the feeling that living at this pace was not respectable, not sustainable. There was so much to do: errands, tasks, planning; and socializing, of course, hours of socializing. There was a cost to it all, a price, for better or worse, to every missed connection. And then I felt strange, for even thinking about everything I could do made me tired — strange, I thought, because I was not usually like this — I called myself an extrovert, an easily excitable person, but I had just spent a perfect summer’s day quietly content, doing very little of anything, quite alright by myself.

The day had gone, but it had left a peculiar impression on me. I was usually scared of being alone for too long. Though I knew being alone and loneliness were distinct sensations, I had trouble divorcing the two; surely, they were not so distantly related. I stiffened a little at the thought, trying to recall the feelings as separate entities. It was a difficult endeavor. I was not so confident that I could enjoy a dinner alone in a public space without feeling intensely self-aware. And everywhere, though I think many would really prefer some more time to themselves, there is a movement, a stirring of cultural identity, a push toward an increasingly connected world that suffocates those who are left behind.

We should not be afraid to enjoy time alone. It is all too rare, too wonderful.

Through the Looking Glass

And just like that, the school year ended, but everything else continued. Thousands of students returned home, retreating to a familiarity that resists the passage of time. Now that I’ve been home almost three weeks, I’d like to reflect on how this last year at school has been.

I’m not sure exactly what to make of my first year at college. Whatever it was, it began abruptly, with a thousand other freshmen putting their best foot forward, presenting only the greatest and coolest versions of themselves over icebreaker games and dining hall encounters. It began in a rush, ushered forth by an energetic combination of anxiety and wonder. We were battered by a hurricane of new faces, new opportunities, new visions of a so-called “Dartmouth Experience” — and we liked it. Those things always were.

For the first time, I could only rely on myself. I suppose 12 years of public school had done this to me. I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t have an existing support system. If adjusting to college is tough for a sheltered suburban teenager, being surrounded by seemingly too-cool, too-confident students is the sugar in the raw that feeds the angst.

Up until winter term, I felt like the end of everything was upon me. The end of good grades. The end of social confidence. The end of home cooked meals. Despite it all though, I was happy. Dartmouth had so much to offer. I knew I was in a special place at a special time. I liked Dartmouth.

But I wasn’t sure if I loved it. With or without my approval though, everything continued; and, as the year unfolded, slowly, slowly, before accelerating in a race toward June, everything got better and better.

This past spring, I experienced moments of being, my mind recognizing happiness while taking in the beauty of the still campus around me. I think for the first time, I could say there were extended periods where I really loved what I was doing, where I was and what I lived for.

It was because of the culmination of a million things, some big and some small. I liked the murky sapphire of the springtime night sky, a glow that burns long after the day’s energy fades. The campus always looked beautiful, peaceful. I liked being self-aware enough to know when I would enjoy a quiet night alone more than a night out with friends. I liked being liked.

*****

By week nine of every term, everyone starts to burn out, exhausted by life. I was tired. The professors were tired. The library was tired, and the Green was tired. Sometimes, I felt like I was just going through the motions, like I was being pulled toward an amorphous distance without knowing why. And I think, to an extent, we all were. We journeyed dazed through days, blacked out from a relentless routine. But we were happy; or at least, we survived. Maybe that’s enough for now.

It’s so easy to lose perspective at the College. To forget that there are other voices crying out beyond my tiny piece of wilderness. We are all insulated by a Dartmouth aegis — a shield so opaque, so adamant that soon we forget there are other things out there.

One night, I complained that I had had a bad week because of all my obligations. My floormate, in turn, complained of her struggles with chemistry; then, at once, she noted the humor behind two Ivy League students complaining as though they had nothing. We laughed at the banality of it all. We laughed until our frustration evaporated, and we were lucky it was just that easy. I was humbled to the brink of joy.

I don’t know what the theme of this post was besides some scattered reflections about college, but I’d like to end this update by sharing the following excerpt from Dartmouth alumna Claire Groden’s piece in The Dartmouth, titled “Don’t Succumb to Overcommitment.”

Being busy is such a comfort. It is an affirmation of worth, a parade of commitments that block off the typical traffic of self-doubt and self-consciousness. Throughout my time at Dartmouth, I’ve overfilled my days so I’d be too busy and exhausted to be by myself, because loneliness at Dartmouth is a terrifying thing. At a school where even being in the library is a social activity, where is a person supposed to eat alone, study alone, exercise alone, without feeling even a little on display? The only solution I found was rarely being alone, or making sure I was drowning in work when I was…

 

…On Saturday night of this year’s Green Key weekend, I spontaneously drove off campus with two good friends. We wound through empty Vermont roads to Gile Mountain, and after giving up on finding the trailhead to the fire tower, parked on the gravel shoulder. We stood in the center of the pavement, the glowing butts of our cigarettes like little light flares in the dense blackness beneath the canopy of trees.

 

It was so quiet that my ears strained, picking out each smoky exhale and the whispering of an invisible brook. Our phones were useless, beyond the reach of service and 3G. We stared at the stars, but mostly talked about ways to incapacitate the hypothetical rapist, kidnapper or serial killer. (Apparently, it’s easier than you might think to rip off a guy’s earlobe.) We were so helplessly alone, self-conscious of our own fear, that we reveled in it. Each time a car approached, we held our breaths praying it wouldn’t stop. When it passed, we laughed giddily, exhilarated by our irrational fear and the bravery of our isolation. It’s weird. But I know that next year, when I’m thumbing through my memories of this place to reconstruct some lost feeling, this night will come through sharply, still smelling a little like clove cigarettes.

Thought Song

I

It’s funny how we prescribe meanings to places – that favorite seat in your college dining hall, the room you randomly got assigned, the park where you first met – because they’re usually really random and have no inherent significance. We like to make things meaningful, whether it’s warranted or not.

Why does it matter if you once sat there? Plenty of other people have and it didn’t mean anything before yesterday, or maybe the day before. Does it really matter, even to you, or do you just like to pretend to ascribe some greater significance to things? Because sometimes that’s how I feel like my life is going, like I’m just constantly justifying things, explaining, believing, rationalizing, pretending.

It’s easiest to assign meaning after-the-fact. It’s true – you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I once read that “the palest ink is better than the fondest memory,” but I don’t know if I believe that. My memories and experiences make up who I am, allowing me to imbue the simple with meaning, the past with pleasure. I like injecting a memory into a place; invisibly, I leave some kind of permanence in that place, a tattoo, a deep ink that penetrates the surface, an emotion that reminds me of what has happened.

I suppose symbols and sentimentality just help us get through the goddamn day.

II

In less than three months I will pack my bags, stuff my sweaters and say bye to my parents at the BWI airport. From there, I will look around wistfully, think about if I remembered to lock my car door at home and avoid small talk with strangers by playing on my phone. Soon the plane will be ready for boarding. I will survey the crowd and look at weary faces, all the while thinking of who I want to sit next to for the next hour and a half, with whom I would like to have one of those impossibly-perfect film connections — a romance that blossoms between Baltimore and Boston. And maybe I will.

By mid-afternoon I will arrive in Hanover, having already made plans to catch up with the old floor, the old group chat, the old everything. I will step off the bus and wave to a familiar face or two; then, an understanding smile will inevitably creep onto my face like a sun that threatens to break dawn, because these are supposed to be my best years ahead. And I believe that.

I will meet new people who will become best friends, okay friends, occasional coffee dates, crushes, doctors, professors, those bankers that everyone likes to make satirical Wall Street comments about, the men and women I desperately wish I had met earlier and the ones who got away. This process will keep happening over and over, term by term until one day, I think — because I guess there’s no way to know for sure — I’ll be sitting on little green chairs in front of an illustrious speaker, thinking about whether now is the appropriate time to cry or not. I will shake the president’s hand, triumphantly raise my diploma and take some Instagram-worthy pictures with other ’17s, some ’18s, some ‘19s and maybe even some ‘20s (yikes). Then after a while it will all settle down; quietly, inevitably, everyone will move onto the next chapter in their lives. And I will know that something special is over.

The finality of it all scares me. Sometimes I feel like we’re just boats passing by each other at night, connecting, sparkling, glimmering with our brightest lights before we move on again toward an unknown. Think of how many faces you’ve seen in your lifetime. It’s probably in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. I get a strange feeling in the depths of my stomach every time I see someone who I’ve made a connection with for what I believe will be the last time. And then that’s it. They’ll be gone. I’ll be gone. He’ll be in California; I’ll be in New York. She’ll be abroad, I’ll still be in the States. And despite our promises of staying in touch, despite the occasional Snapchat and the genuine messages, our relationship will slowly fade away, disappearing further and further into a vague and amorphous distance until it becomes so faint that one day I won’t even be able to see it. And I will know that I’ve lost something.

The last time I think of you. The last time you think of me. I don’t want to think about it. We’re all just tiny spheres of individuality that never fully overlap. I dream in the subjunctive too often, always wondering about possibilities and could-have-beens.

III

Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Town & Country. An escape to another lifestyle. First the hope, lyrical; then the dream, irrevocable. An afternoon at the airport. All this and more.

She had the perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway