HOLMES: Our suite sense of self

Duck-Rabbit_illusion
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Yale can be your first shot of Dubra. It can be your first B+ from a published author. It can be faceoff on center ice, a source of pride, a place of stress — but whatever accolades or insecurities it may confer, Yale is also the place and the people you return to at the end of each day.

It is too often easy for me to wonder how someone could not love being here. Sure, there are times when I’m restless, or achingly lonely, particularly when walking head down in the biting cold of winter, but the restlessness and loneliness are always short-lived. I used to attribute my happiness here to some inner fortitude or general spirit of optimism — but I’ve realized that has nothing to do with it. I have, at the most basic level, been happy every day since I arrived on campus because I have always had a safe space to look forward to each night, filled with the faces and farts of my ever-present suitemates. Not everyone, I’ve come to realize, does.

I wish they did, because the living situation that Yale offers is truly unique, and an opportunity, above all, to understand yourself through the eyes of others. At Yale, we marvel at the composure and confidence of our talented peers and wonder how they manage to pull it all off. But there’s an entire side of each person that we don’t see — and rarely, I find, are we given the opportunity to see it.

There are a delicate handful of occasions when the curtains of composure crumple and expose the backstage, when interactions are stripped to their most raw and unassuming state. Such occasions rarely emerge in section or at frat parties, at rehearsal or in the dining hall, even during the most intimate of dinner conversations.

This year, by living with seven other people, I have come to understand myself from seven different perspectives, but only because I have exposed myself to a refreshing and irrevocable extent. Late at night in homely pajamas and retainers, we have all, at one point or another, shed our confidences, dropped our composures and laid ourselves out, as vulnerable as naked mole rats stranded on an ice floe.

I’ve always found the whole spiel about “learning to understand yourself” a bit trite. I don’t think you can learn to “know thyself” alone, no matter what interests you pursue or what far-off places you visit. I think, as other sayings go, it’s just as much about learning how others understand you as it is about learning how you understand yourself.

Swept into Yale’s gyre of tests and papers, concerts and tournaments, we can get so caught up in the snarls of self-imposed stress and tangles of past and future anxieties that we become unable to see ourselves clearly. My own image of self after being observed, examined and scrutinized at my most vulnerable has emerged as that optical illusion that captures the features of both a rabbit and a duck. For two decades I saw in my reflection the ears of a rabbit, but over the past several months, my suitemates have traced the beak of a duck. Actually, each of the seven suities sees something a little different in me: a dog, a muskrat, a tapir, maybe a skink (hopefully not a skink — they’re these weird lizardy snake things). It takes a while to sink in that I’m not entirely the rabbit I thought I was.

My suitemates point out patterns in my behavior, mistakes I keep unwittingly repeating, shortcomings in my thinking and treatment of others — things I think I’m perspicacious enough, by now, to notice, but which every single day pass me by. And those increasingly informed and ever-evolving alternate perspectives offer me an invaluable, intangible gift bestowed in these twilight hours of college life.

My suitemates have been, without question, the most important aspect of my time so far at Yale. They have turned my most horrible days into the most memorable nights. Don’t underestimate, or undervalue, their transformative powers — powers that might show you the duck where you saw the hare, and powers that bring a close group of someones together with open arms and open ears at the end of even the coldest and loneliest of winter nights.

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

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