The hustle and bustle of life at a top university is loud, fast and disruptive. Walk through the Diag at any sunlit hour on a weekday and you are bombarded with the stomping of overpriced shoes and the rustling of wine boxes in backpacks. The quantity of bodies walking every which way disrupts natural wind patterns, making it easy to get tossed about this bumbling hub. You’re lucky to get through without being cajoled by some performer handing out flyers to their latest performance. Or some club member begging you to buy a donut.
When I am on campus, it’s head-down as I get from point A to point B. God forbid I make awkward eye contact with someone I think I know, but can’t be sure with their mask. Avoid the last-minute smiles and awkward hand waves that may come with recognizing a classmate. Dodge the Diag tablers, speed past the slow walkers, try to tune out the Ross-holes and their complaints about whatever economics test they almost failed.
I may be alone in my techniques to block out the campus noise, but I don’t think I’m alone in my act of entering a more personal sphere when I step onto campus. Consciously or not, every Wolverine kind of exists in their own world while on campus. Their world may be sitting at that Diag table raising money for a club, or their world could be colliding with another’s through a conversation about social dos and don’ts. But few of these worlds extend beyond the academic realm and into the larger Ann Arbor community and the beauty of the world. I am guilty of this ignorance of my surroundings too, which is why spending spring break in Ann Arbor was so special.
With classes paused and students gone, silence reigns over our little city. Sweet silence.
I felt a lot of pressure to get out of town for the break. To live life and travel and explore new places. But honestly, Ann Arbor without us pesky students feels like a different world. With no need to keep my head down or pick up my pace, and a healthy helping of gratitude for the surprisingly good weather, I could look around and enjoy my surroundings.
Look at all the beautiful oak trees on our campus! And the flirty chirps as birds fly between their branches. Is that grass peeking up through the cold, hard dirt? I’ve never noticed how beautiful the Hatcher Graduate Library is. Do stillness and silence enhance our vision?
Take a stroll away from campus, down Liberty Street, then Main Street. The locals are out enjoying the sun. It turns out what they say about Midwesterners is true: they are really nice, especially when their home isn’t overrun by Redbull and vodka enthusiasts. I exchanged smiles and good mornings with countless strangers. I had my pick of tables at any coffee shop. I didn’t have to fight my way past any slow, student walkers. I became a slow walker myself, free from the anxiety I get when I feel someone walking behind me. This newfound slowness made the world seem brighter, friendlier, more peaceful.
As the students return from their benders in Mexico or Florida or New Orleans and the noise seeps back onto campus, I question the reality of my Spring Break experiences. As quickly as it started, the silence is gone. It is hard to believe that it was ever really there. But the trees are still here, and the birds are still singing. And Hatcher is still beautiful, and soon there will be flowers everywhere. Silence and stillness and slowness fade, but it is still Ann Arbor.
My challenge as our semester resumes is to continue to cast off the boundaries between myself and the world around me. To walk through the diag with my head up, so I can watch as the trees add new leaves and the squirrels resurface. Even if you already walk through campus with your eyes lifted, I also challenge you to cast off the boundaries of whatever private world you inhabit and soak up the beauty this town has to offer.
Daily Arts Writer Maya Levy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.