There are better things to do on a Friday night than to take two full laps on the bus between North Campus and Central Campus because you just have to finish the last fifty pages of André Aciman’s “Out of Egypt.” And there are better things to do on a Saturday night than sit in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library until two in the morning because you just have to read “The Virgin Suicides” in one sitting. Wait, scratch that. Those are pretty great ways to spend a night.
It’s a good scene, that night spent reading on the bus. There’s a bunch of freshmen on their way from Bursley Residence Hall to a party on Central Campus, and then there’s me, eyes locked on the page. Then that night in the UGLi: the kid sitting in the corner, binders and notebooks arranged in front of him like a war map, and me, eyes locked on the page. The fluorescent lights hum a dim chorus above us.
My mistake was believing that the art was on the page when I was really the one living it. I don’t remember reading those books, but I remember the moment after I finished them. I remember looking up and seeing the scene around me, the hiss of the brakes as we came to a red light. I don’t remember many of the loud, late nights, but I remember the quiet ones. It felt so standard, so normal, that silence of a bus in the evening.
There’s one thought which hasn’t left my mind since last February: Man, I can’t wait till we get back to normal. But somewhere in the last 18 months of avoiding crowds, of pulling the elastic strings of a mask over my ears, of bouncing from one Zoom call to the next, I think I forgot what normal was. My social circuits were rewired.
I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little scared of that first day back, of that first discussion section. I’ve gotten so used to being just a face in a grid of boxes that I’m not sure how it’ll feel to be a whole person again, to think about my posture and worry about whether my socks match. What’ll I do without the security of a mute button? Will I be embarrassed to sneeze? This next semester isn’t a return to normal, it’s a new attempt at normal, and that’s a gift.
You’re about to start your college experience, and I’m about to restart mine. I’ll be just the same as you — as you try to figure out who you’ll be in the crowd, I’ll try to remember who I am. It may be a little awkward, a little difficult. But there’s art all around us, both seen and unseen. Look for it. When you hear that hum on the first day of class, that chatter of strangers, remember to take a second to listen — it’s almost music, isn’t it?