The other day, the coldest day so far this term, I couldn’t help but notice pairs of friends all over campus walking arm-in-arm, holding each other tight. I noticed as they sprang in uniform steps through the redwood alley or floated blissfully into Sharples. As we enter fall and eventually winter, I can’t help but reflect on my previous cold seasons here.
The isolation I encountered over last fall and winter caused me to notice the setting sun more acutely. At night, my apartment felt like a Hollywood movie set; the view from my windows was depthless and blank, like someone had placed a black board against each pane. Every creak echoed, highlighting the single pair of solitary ears that heard them.
When the stillness was too much to bear, I would leave my apartment for a nighttime walk through the Ville. I took a liking to watching people through the window at Renato, or sitting near the Chester Road overpass as cars loudly pressed past me. And when I’d become too tired to care for even the subtle stimulations of Swarthmore’s main street, I’d stumble home and into bed.
Eventually, I built a ritual to acknowledge night’s hastening arrival. After work but before complete darkness, I would spend some time outside or near a window, standing in the midst of the day’s fading light. I returned always to a primal reassurance: even if I knew nothing else, I knew at least that the sun would rise again on a fresh, new day. Tomorrow there would be energy, tomorrow there would be time, tomorrow there would be light. It wasn’t lost on me that what I was building was a ritual towards hope, but it wasn’t exactly hope for anything specific, just a quotidien optimism that time continues, having similar effects tomorrow as it did today.
I write this entry not to lean too directly into the depths of melodrama, though I’d argue that it’s not always such an unpleasant place to be. We can give ourselves no better freedom than the allowance to feel our fullest feelings. There, we learn to love our deepest parts.
Through the long winter shadowed by the pandemic, I learned how to be a more-whole person. We are told by many that college will have this effect on us, but it took me a year outside of academic pursuits to realize what I was missing. Now I see myself comfortably as my own company and my own sustainer.
Again, the days will grow shorter; I think we can already feel it. But we are responding with a special type of physical closeness that I suppose we’ve all been missing. We no longer hesitate to embrace one another, we tell each other to sleep well, and we answer the “how are you doing?”s with more attention to detail, more care for the emotional worlds we’ve each been wandering for the last eighteen months.
Much has changed since last winter: we are safer, we are more together, and I no longer feel an urge to take my nightly stalk through the ville. While I have given up my morning routine of pour-over coffee and listening to the news in exchange for a resigned feeling of being rushed and forgetting to shower, I share my space and time with wonderful new friends and steadfast old ones. And each day, I am given the beautiful gift of watching my community walk arm and arm, as close to one another as they can possibly be.
Jan Toorop, 1892