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Saying Goodbye

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The summer I was eleven I got a hand-me-down dress from my cousin. The dress was perfect. It was pale green with little orange flowers and it fit exactly right. It wasn’t frilly. It was simple and wonderful. Wearing it made me feel quietly special, like Mary Lennox and Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls all rolled into one. I wore my green dress often that summer and into the fall, while the leaves were still on the trees and most days were warm. But the next June it didn’t fit right anymore. It pinched my shoulders and didn’t even reach the top of my knees. I was devastated. I wasn’t ready to give up that quiet specialness.

When I run through the Crum there’s a particular spot that makes me feel like I’m wearing that dress again. Past the water tower there is a trail where spicebush and witch-hazel flank either side of the path and bend towards each other, creating an archway. When leaves are just starting to appear on the trees the entire trail turns a pale yellow-green. There is never anyone there at 5:00 in the afternoon and it’s as if it exists for me alone. Shadows dance on the ground ahead of me as I run through my own light-filled tunnel—quietly special.

More often than not, goodbyes have been something that have happened to me and not something I have chosen for myself. In some ways graduation is no exception. I have been working towards graduation for four years now, and also its imminent approach is beyond my control.

There are undoubtedly aspects of Swarthmore I will not miss. I will not miss the stress of living in a community that uses overwork as its predominant coping mechanism. I will not miss the mentality that academia is the be-all-end-all of knowing. I will not miss the desperation of  trying to simultaneously understand a scientific paper and comfort a panicked friend at 2 am.

And there are many things at Swarthmore that I don’t feel quite ready to leave behind — my professors, my friends, the Crum. The lesson in that dress though, I think, is that saying goodbye is nuanced. I am saying goodbye to the Swarthmore community and to the Crum Woods. But I’m not saying goodbye to how these things have made me feel. I am not saying goodbye to stress, or desperation, or awe, or gratitude.

The summer I was twelve, when I finally did concede defeat and put my green dress in the pile of clothes that no longer fit, I had no idea that seven years down the road a trail in a small Pennsylvanian woods would make me feel just as quietly special. I’m trying to hold onto that now as we take on our last week of classes as undergraduates, tumbling closer to the inevitable end that is graduation. I am going to feel stress and desperation and gratitude and awe again, in new communities and new relationships and in many situations I would never expect to feel them. For me, there is comfort in knowing that I found quiet specialness both in a well-worn dress and years later on an early-spring woods trail. It means this is probably not the last time I will find it.  

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