In October of 2001, I was sitting in the office of the Pierson writing tutor as she mined her library of precariously-stacked hardcover books for a copy of Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.” There was a perfect quote there, she promised me. If she could just find it. At length, she resigned herself to reciting it from memory. Then she cried. Just for a moment. It was one of those cathartic cries you can’t hold back. The kind that comes when you try to explain to some one else what a few intimate words that you’ve reread hundreds of times mean to you.
Here, in short, was an indelible Yale moment. You can surely recall yours. Add some props to the scene I’ve just described; take others away. Replace this person with that one. What you have in these episodes — the ones that are worth remembering — is a brief window into human consciousness.
That’s what these last four years were all about, weren’t they? A handful of visceral moments between us — students, friends, lovers, teachers — the details of which remain so fresh even now that if you reach back far enough you can not only retrieve them, you can relive them.
I can remember more. (I’m sure you can too.) There was the end of another all-night talk in the basement of Vanderbilt Hall freshman year, when I realized the girl sitting across from me would be my best friend. There was the cold, rainy morning sophomore year when I interviewed a freshman in the tent city set up on Beinecke Plaza to protest sweatshop labor, and discovered a classmate who possessed — without a trace of irony — a resolve to change the world.
For a long time I’ve been meaning to write this particular column and it is somehow fitting that it’s my last. For the last four years I’ve been a reporter and an editor in these pages, recording and examining other people’s lives. For just as long, I have been trying to put my finger on something we share here, something that does not discriminate between the cliques (the hip, the unhip, the blissfully unaware), the organizations (the do-gooders, the self-aggrandizers, the restless) and the lifestyles (the blase, the earnest, the tortured).
It’s simple, really. So simple I’m embarrassed it has taken me this many words to explain. We all experience exceptional moments of human connection. And we experience them here in a community forged through proximity and routine. Before long, these moments become the platform on which a larger personal consciousness — yours and mine — is built.
These moments stand out precisely because so much of our time at Yale is lived unconsciously. Pick a week or a month or even a semester from the last four years — any will do — and try to remember what transpired. It’s hopeless. Memory is fickle. It craves a moment to latch onto. “The separate moments of being,” wrote Virginia Woolf in an essay that sits on my nightstand, are “embedded in many more moments of non-being.” The great majority of college life is lived and forgotten as quickly as it is over.
We wrote the papers, we did the laundry, we ate the meals. But these events pass into the ether. What we’ll remember from Yale is the rapture. The anger. The admiration. What we will remember are the moments, those unforgettable times when something passed between us as we discovered who and what it is we love.
Michael Barbaro is graduating from Davenport College. He is the former editor in chief of the Yale Daily News.