A laptop laying on a bed in front of an open window with the sun setting.
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I brainstorm new topics for Michigan Daily articles, like this one, from my bed in the apartment I moved into when the freshmen residence halls closed. I rest my computer on my lap, blank document open and waiting, and I lean back into the silence. Across from my bed is a window, and through it, as I write or ponder, I see the yellow house next door. On clear evenings like tonight, the sunset compliments the friendly yellow house and the pink quilt on my bed. The light casts a warm hue over my room and brings the tapestry of the sky and twinkly lights on the wall next to me to life. It’s a zen, quiet, picturesque moment, arguably my favorite of the week. 

I’ve had the privilege of this simple yet mesmerizing view for three months now. And for three months, while I sit looking at the yellow house and my quilt in the sun’s rays, I continuously have the same thought: What would my younger self, perhaps my year-ago self, think if she saw me here? What would she make of the yellow house? Of my bedroom? The fact that I’m clearly not in a residence hall? Without explanation, she’d be shocked and confused, to say the least.

I think it’s a crazy phenomenon — that I, a year ago today, would have never conceived of this image, my life and my circumstances right now. A phenomenon not unlike Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole: one moment she was walking, the next moment she was in an unrecognizable, alternate reality with all sense of normality flipped on its head. I never imagined that I’d be living in an apartment in Ann Arbor, making my own meals, attending online classes or wearing a mask every time I was in public.

We have the pandemic to thank for shaking things up; for throwing us down rabbit holes and making almost all of our present realities completely different from what our year-ago selves would have predicted them to be. And I know that COVID-19 moving plans around and making lives harder is not a novel concept. But I think there is something deeper that we need to dig out and find value in before we completely move on.

This pandemic has brought suffering, loneliness, deaths of loved ones — for my family, my dad’s father — and cancellations of opportunities that were heartbreaking. I’m thrilled to leave such a devastating period behind. But, as the weather gets warmer, as vaccines become widely accessible and as the news channels begin to spend air time on other issues, I can feel the pandemic era fleeting. And though this sounds strange or even twisted, I do feel a sense of nostalgia.

On the day-to-day level, the pandemic turned my life from fairly predictable to wildly abnormal, and I found a little thrill in that. At the very beginning, I thought I’d have two weeks of senior spring break instead of one. Naive to what was coming, I was overjoyed with the school’s calendar change and the prospect of having extra time off — the world, or at least the extended spring break, was my oyster. I then spent months on end at home, but upon my arrival at college, I spent no more than three weeks in a single location. I moved quickly from my new residence hall room; to quarantine with people I barely knew; to a room alone, sick with chest pains, fever and brain fog. Now here I am on this pink quilt in an apartment. 

It’s felt like the Adventures of Me in Wonderland. The unknown. The unpredictable. The discomfort. The unexpected encounters. The possibility. There were new opportunities and experiences that wouldn’t have been on the menu had business-per-usual been at play. I also recognize that I was lucky enough to be in a position with more privileged circumstances to view uncertainty in this way. I was forced to bounce around, but as a result, I tried more things and experienced many more versions of life and of myself. Instead of having one roommate throughout my first semester, I experienced four. I met an adult side of me that hadn’t previously been so required. I also uncovered a relaxed version of myself, content and not so bothered by my new nomadic lifestyle.  

Not only was this exciting, but to me, the idea of normal routines being broken, that the day-to-day humdrum of life was completely disrupted, felt a bit liberating. Expectations were on hold. I had no impressive job or fancy internship over the summer, and relaxed in the dog days knowing barely anyone else did either. Even once I got to school in August, there was no guarantee that I’d be staying due to positive tests or campus rules. Again, while terrifying, this lack of predictability was also freeing, as I wasn’t beholden to anyone or any permanent circumstances. Everything was subject to change and predominantly out of my control. I’m a high-strung person, I’m intent on making the right decisions and I have a proclivity for perfectionism that probably needs curbing. While a lot of my energy usually goes towards manning the chessboard that’s my life, moving pieces and planning ahead, I had to step down, surrender and let COVID-19 play my game. 

I’ve never experienced so many redirects and pivots in my plans in such a short amount of time. Between the amount of COVID-19 scares and tests I had to take and the frequency at which my circumstances were constantly changing, I was essentially forced to adopt the “do one thing every day that scares you” regime. I was not complacent with my expectations of any certain schedule or way of life. I was here, I was there, the future was unclear and I was forced to ride the wave of the present. 

Today, I’m on a job and internship search for my summer, weighing options and choices, sending emails and scheduling calls, deciding where I’ll find the best experience. I know whatever I choose and wherever I’ll go, that’s where I’ll be planted and that’s the schedule that I’ll follow. I notice that “no expectation” mentality, previously mandated by my pandemic circumstances, running away.

As society goes back to normal, I wonder if we’ll all return to the scheduled and routine way of life. Never before has my generation, at least, experienced such an elongated shattering of regular life, and it’s unclear whether the effects will be everlasting. Will we go back to creating plans and going through the motions of what and where society says we’re supposed to be? After some time, will I regress to operating on a one-track mind, unable to see non-obvious opportunities or life-course excursions? Perhaps I’ll see them, but expectations will stop me from pursuing them. I fear that I’ll never again observe a scene in my life and wonder what the hell my year-ago self would make of it.

And so, while I’m eager to never hear the word “corona” again, I do have to think about how I can extract what was good and instructive from the rubble and keep it in my pocket moving forward. What I can gather is that there’s something to be said for spontaneity. For operating under lower expectations. I don’t need to drop out of college or move to Switzerland as soon as I graduate. But I do think I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself to “shake things up.” It’s on me to remember not to worry so much about the shoulds or deadlines or expected courses of action because, hopefully, a global pandemic will never again make that decision for me. 

As I sit here, watching the sunset over the yellow house, I think I’ve come up with a good rule of thumb: to sometimes opt for the choice that perhaps my year-ago self wouldn’t have been able to envision. To choose to tumble down the rabbit hole. After all, the sun still sets and the sun still rises. From wherever I’ve been quarantined, from wherever I’ve logged on to Zoom, from whatever car rides I was taking, job I was doing, puzzle I was piecing, the sun still did her thing above me. No matter how jumbled my own schedule was, the sun still followed hers in the sky. Always did, always will. I think knowing this is security enough to make spontaneous decisions or veer away from the humdrum here and there. 

Tonight, the sun sets on the yellow house, pink quilt and my last Daily piece of the year. It sets on winter, on the near-end of the pandemic and near-end of expectations obligatorily being set at the wayside. I wonder where I’ll be a year from now when it rises. I hope that I’m surprised.

Statement Columnist Lilly Dickman can be reached at ldickman@umich.edu .