HOLMES: Trusting Cantabs and serendipity

I sometimes feel that here at Yale, we have measured out our lives with coffee spoons. We forget how to walk barefoot, to act impetuously, to consider the potential promise of an unplanned unknown. Just take a look at a kaleidoscopic GCal, try to schedule in something spontaneous (already inherently doomed if you’re using the word “schedule”), or ask someone in October what he or she is doing for the summer. When he responds, “I don’t know yet,” it is only a cautious preamble to the ensuing list of applications and internships already set at low-to-medium heat on the back burner.

On the Friday night lurking before The Game, I was reminded how on this one weekend, our deeply ingrained mentality of preparedness and risk aversion undergoes a drastic bouleversement. From the moment our soles touch Cambridge pavement until kickoff, there is no knowing where we may find ourselves. Our biennial pilgrimage to Harvard rests on a transient trust in chance and the unknown — two ambiguous entities that most Yalies have long striven to avoid. Not to mention our faith in Cantabs — that after the juvenile bad-mouthing and platitudinous back-and-forth, our witless rivals will still have the decency of heart to swipe us into their entryways, let us crash on their couches and flop on their library floors.

For a short, glorious stretch of uncertainty, we leave our immediate futures up to chance. And quite often, this simple risk leads to some of the semester’s most entertaining stories. A friend of mine still seizes any possible opportunity to recount his 2010 Yale-Harvard tale of waking up alone in a chemistry lab. This year, a buddy at the tailgate revealed to me, beneath his neon shades, a lazy eye generously imparted the night before by a Harvard student. And one of my girlfriends ended up in the tender embrace of some Harvard chap named Vipple.

I’m not, let me clarify, condoning belligerence or trespassing, renegade romance or intentional recklessness. Safety is always paramount, and I trust that both Yalies and Cantabs transcend the invisible lines of college loyalty to prioritize mutual well-being. What I am condoning, rather, is a tryst with chance — a willingness, if only short-lived, to succumb to serendipity. To have absolutely no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going or who’ll be there with you, and to be, for once, okay with that. For many of us, that comes as easily as brushing off a bad grade.

And sometimes, the powers of chance stick around until Game day. For the first time in a long while, hundreds of Yalies are gathered together with their default mode of communication largely incapacitated. At the tailgate, you are better off meandering aimlessly than trying in vain to talk your texts into sending. If they don’t want to, they won’t. Cyber communication crippled, you might stumble into The Game on the arm of someone unexpected, or perhaps let the still-wet wings of a fledgling relationship give a little flap, knowing in that heart of risk-averse hearts that if those wings don’t fly, the impending vacations will provide a safe and subtle exit.

Yale-Harvard is a curious thing — that one weekend a year when it’s suddenly okay to wear those old-boy H and Y sweaters out in public without feeling like a self-satisfied poseur, to be hailed a safety school and to not check your email for all — yes, all — of Saturday. Perhaps the stories of serendipitous mishaps that we encounter in Cambridge will render more Yalies willing to leave their tomorrows less meticulously planned. I’d like to believe the best things come unseen, and certainly not color-coded. These are our bright college years, and we only live them once; don’t let Yale-Harvard be the only time you let in a little of the unknown. Chem lab counters and Vipple’s semi-sculpted biceps may not appeal to everyone, but, well, you just never know.

Tao Tao Holmes is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at taotao.holmes@yale.edu .

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