TAYLOR: Time present and time past

Tell It Slant

The process of saying goodbye begins at hello. Witness the handshake: holding hands and letting go, we enact the trajectory of a nascent relationship. Bonds fray, links break, seams unravel. This is called entropy. It’s a law: Things fall apart.

Michelle TaylorThis is a valediction forbidding mourning. John Donne wrote one for the love of his life, but since no one loves me, I guess I have to write my own. So this is for me, from me. But it’s also for Yale — because I love you, Yale.

There are two parts to loss: the anticipation, and the actual lack. The anticipation is worse — a cold arrow shooting through the heart, leaving a little scar in its wake. Then, there, at the center of all feeling, is the shard — sharp and still.

I remember my arrow: a line of Milton’s, from “Paradise Lost,” referenced in a column like this one. Sitting at the Sterling computer cluster freshman year, I thought of graduation and the Fall. I thought of Adam and Eve, postlapsarian postgrads moaning à la the painting by Massacio. “The world was all before them,” Milton told me, but all I could think of were the gates that closed behind, the “natural tears they shed,” and the Archangel Michael posted at Phelps Gate.

That Miltonic Model — solid as a shard of stained Sterling glass — pierces more Yale experiences than just mine. So many of us look at our four fleeting years like a doomsday clock. We think of the Expulsion from the Garden, wondering what grievous offense sent the first Yale grad falling from the Ivory Tower. We panic, and we glut ourselves on the Trees of Knowledge and Experience, constantly worrying that each fruit will be our last.

I have spent four years trying to say goodbye to Yale, to force each precious moment into the elusive amber of my memory. Like a nervous last kiss, each time I pull away with nothing but the taste of my own worry on my lips. The pearls have kept of their own accord, and my string of keepsakes is long, if incomplete. And yet I panicked — why?

We call Yale paradise, and it’s true: I can’t imagine ever loving a place more than this one. Still, there was something I’d forgotten. Far be it from me to justify the ways of Milton to man, but wasn’t the Fall supposed to be Fortunate?

When Adam and Eve stand at the edge of Eden, the world is all before them. But we get so caught up in what they’ve lost that we neglect the grand adventure they’ve been given. Of course it’s scary — I haven’t cleaned my own bathroom since I moved out of Welch. But moving isn’t just a part of life; it’s how we live. That’s the whole ravishing point — that, as T. S. Eliot writes, “to make an end is to make a beginning.” Little good comes from stasis, and no growth.

It is perhaps too simple, as consolation, to assert that we carry Yale in our hearts. Still, we have the shard, a lens through which we might refract some beauty, a scar that makes us feel and think a little more keenly. The shard is a gift in its own right — a tool for seeing and shaping the world beyond Eden.

We have so much of that world left to discover. And what is Eden if it lasts forever? Loss gives love dimension, and joy is sweetened by pain. Again, Eliot wrote it best: on the brink of war, on the edge of despair, he knew that:

We shall not cease from 
exploration/

And the end of all our 
exploring/

Will be to arrive at where we started/

And know the place for the first time.

We will know Yale only after we’ve left. Of course we’ll miss each other, and this place. We’ll miss our castles, our libraries and our tulips, our conversations and our classes, and skipping the latter for the former. We’ll miss everything that somehow slipped, like buried treasure, into the shifting sands of our memories. And though science tells us that entropy is law, love has made exceptions before. Love, I am sure, will hold this knot together.

And maybe we’ll realize, as the gate closes softly behind us, as we are left only with what our hearts and cameras could capture, that Paradise was not Yale, but how we lived in her. Paradise is being together, exploring, wondering, loving. And we can take that with us.

For this is not an end, but a beginning. And lest you should worry, dear readers, know that I — and we — shall not cease.

Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. This is her last column for the News. Contact her at michelle.a.taylor@yale.edu .

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