Time Travels

22 04 2010

It’s that time of year again.

It’s strange how immediately recognizable they are. Never mind the fact that half of them have already turned 18, and I have not yet reached 19. Never mind that in a few short months, many of them will live here, too. For the moment, they are still high schoolers.

The prefrosh have arrived. The prefrosh, with their calculating, judging expressions. The prefrosh, with a parent flanking each shoulder and a pesky sibling dancing underfoot. The prefrosh, with their bags emblazoned with The Cornell Store and Big Red Bag and containing about one hundred dollars worth of merchandise. The prefrosh, with their cutesy little name-tags that declare them to be of the Class of 2014 – a class that doesn’t exist yet. And even when they try to get the real experience by doffing expression, parents, siblings, bags, and name-tags… even then, I can still pick them out by the particularly fierce red color of their sweatshirts, which seem to scream, “I’ve never been washed!”

The campus is suddenly overcrowded. It feels different, more claustrophobic. We are being judged. These children look at us – at me! – and decide if I look like the kind of person that they want to become. Their parents look at us and try to determine if I am the future they want for their child.

It’s not a bad feeling, per se. It’s nice to see all of these soon-to-be-college-kids romping around. It feels good to share my love of this place with younger people, and to attempt to persuade them that this place is the best place on Earth. It’s pleasant.

I guess the part that gets to me is that I’m looking down from the hill this year, instead of up at it. It seems like just yesterday that I got the emails myself, from Harvard (waitlist, then no), from Yale (waitlist, then no), from Brown (yes, please), and from Cornell (yes, please). Can it really have been a year since I came here, and was terrified by the idea of spending a night apart from my parents on this strange new campus?

Well, yes. I suppose it could be. That girl who didn’t know her way around Cornell, who wasn’t sure if she was going to join the Big Red Marching Band, who was terrified to spend a night in a dorm called Balch – how do you even pronounce that? – seems very far away.

But at the same time… how can it be that I am now the college student and they are the prefrosh? What has changed? When did I grow up? It seems as though I have barely arrived, and now they would have me be a sophomore, a veteran, an experienced Cornellian?

Time is a funny thing.

You’d think, what with all the traveling through it that we do, that we might have some understanding of it. It would seem that we might be able to predict its subjectivity, should have guessed how quickly yesterday would end and how painfully today would drag on. Why is it that mere minutes feel like an eternity as we count sheep and try desperately to fall asleep, but that summer weeks fly by with hardly a backward glance? And why is it that we – who spend as much time journeying through time as we do through space – cannot even begin to comprehend it? We have enough practice, don’t we?

Sometimes I think I have it all figured out: each moment lasts forever, but once it’s gone, it vanishes into the bigger picture. An instant is like a single brushstroke on a Monet: up close, it is a miracle in and of itself, but from afar it is just a part of a larger painting. It vanishes, it is lost in the chaos and the beauty.

But even a Monet – no matter how large and glorious it may be – cannot encompass a life. No, time is more complex than any painting, than any symphony. Time cannot be explained on a human scale.

Time simply refuses to pause. It goes onward and onward, relentlessly, stopping for no one. It is inescapable; it captures us; it carries us along, like a riptide pulling us eternally closer to death.

And sometimes, it seems as though the moments are pointless. Each bleeds into the next; they are gone as soon as they arrive. So what is the point? In a moment, we will be in tomorrow; in another, we will be middle-aged; in another, dead. Time is subjective, passing fleetingly with hardly a proper hello.

But no. Stop. Don’t let the river of time sweep you away; walk through the moments on your own two feet. Treat each moment like a spoonful of ice cream – though it quickly melts away, savor the taste on your tongue before reaching for the next one. Live, live for the now.

The prefrosh have arrived, and I feel like hardly a day has passed since I was one of them. But a part of me knows that there have been 31.5 million moments between then and now. There have been concerts, classes, dinners with friends. There have been labs, walks around Beebe Lake, forced sentences in French. There have been parades, textbooks, prelims. There have been parties, late-night study sessions, movies. Cookies. Gatherings. Lectures. Suicides. Hugs. Flowers. Snowball fights. Meetings with advisors. Discussions. Laughs, thoughts, dreams…

Think of a memory. Something beautiful, something precious, something stupid, something painful… Something. Anything. Hold onto that memory. Savor it, like a bite of the coldest, sweetest, most delicious ice cream you’ve ever tasted.

As long as you have the memories, time cannot win. As long as you go on making more, the passage of time does not matter. Embrace each moment, then let it go.

Never.

Stop.

Living.

The prefrosh have arrived, and I am one no longer. But when I look at them, I see what I was, and I smile. Because I know what I am now. And I know what time has in store for them.

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Ten Square Miles

13 04 2010

I was walking around campus the other day, when I saw a car with a bumper sticker that tickled my fancy:

“Ithaca is ten square miles surrounded by reality.”

How true this is. Despite being students at a prestigious Ivy League school, despite having been the most lauded of our high school classes, despite being the hopes of the world for the next twenty-five years… Cornellians have no concept of reality. Here, on our hill far above Cayuga’s waters, we live in notre propre petit monde – our own little world.

And so when there’s an earthquake in Haiti or (where was that other one again? Oh right…) Chile, don’t expect us to be the first to know about it.

But do expect us to care. And sure as hell expect us to have a unique opinion, and to make a splash trying to make a difference.

And expect us – me – to have a strange penchant for thinking. A love of pondering little and big questions alike, examining life and forming unique opinions. A thirst to understand. Because there’s a different view from up here on the hill… and it makes you believe Socrates when he said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”