SCHWARTZ: Lingering

Dissentary

In the next week, I will hand in my last Yale papers and attend my last Yale seminars. As I prepare to do so, I get wistful and consider what advice I might have given myself four years ago. One word comes to mind: linger.

Linger over meals.

Yishai_Schwartz_portrait_by_madeleine_wittThe thousands of pages we read, and the hundreds more we wrote might stick with us for a time. The organizations we led and the initiatives we spearheaded may have felt important in the moment. But for the vast majority of us, the memory of it all will fade in just a few years.

What will not fade are the effects of the lunch that followed an enraging seminar — the camaraderie that flows from criticizing the jerks in one’s class, the satisfaction that comes from finally bringing around a sparring partner, the ecstasy that accompanies the moment of clarity when you finally understand why someone believes something radically different. The relationships forged in the hours of conversation after the dining hall was meant to close, the transformations in character triggered when you finally accept the point a friend simply wouldn’t concede — these are what will last.

Linger in the hallways.

The best of what I learned from my professors didn’t come in the lecture hall or the seminar room, or even in office hours. It came in the half-hour after class when most students had dispersed, but a few of us lingered in the hallway. Classes and appointments are scheduled in advance; you enter with a plan and leave at an appointed time. But the moment after class ends is the moment when requirements and formality fall away. The issues nagging and gnawing at you for the previous two hours can suddenly burst forth and be addressed directly.

There’s no hand-raising or phony pontification in the hallway. Professors let their hair down and engage, and you learn what they really believe, enjoying the freedom to press and push. And when they make little sense, you can interrupt and question and argue, free of the fear that you’ll look stupid in front of your classmates.

Over our time here, responsibilities build up and obligations crowd our schedules. We find ourselves dashing out of seminar and racing off to meetings. In the process, I worry we have lost some of our best moments.

So for me, the corridor outside of LC201 will forever be the center of campus; the place where I learned to think.

Linger on the street-corners.

MIT held a memorial service yesterday for Sean Collier, the campus police officer whose murder sparked the ferocious chase that led to the killing and capture of the Boston terrorists. MIT’s students wrote letters recounting their daily interactions with Collier. One letter, read aloud at the service, described how the “geeky” Collier might have passed for an MIT student. The service contained all the pomp and circumstance MIT could muster, and the university’s board voted to make Collier an honorary member of the school’s alumni association.

The tribute was beautiful and fitting. But in reading the reports, I realized that I know only a handful of the Yale employees who surround me every day. Many of us take pride in our relationships with dining hall workers and maintenance staff, departmental assistants and the guards who sit at the entrance of Bass. Nevertheless, most of us, I imagine, can do more.

None of us are capable of developing a meaningful friendship with every acquaintance. But gratitude to those who protect and sustain us is a value in itself. At Yale, it easy to imagine that everyone that matters is a 20-year old with a backpack. But if we can break that habit of narrowness now — if we made the time to know each other a little bit better, noting absences and exchanging greetings with names rather than nods — then all of our lives will be richer.

So both at Yale and beyond — at meals, after class and on the street — remember to leave yourself time before the next thing. Remember to linger.

Yishai Schwartz is a senior in Branford College. This is his last column for the News. Contact him at yishai.schwartz@yale.edu .

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