A little over a week ago, in the midst of spring break, I was having trouble falling asleep. It has become a recurring issue.
The combination of stress over my senior essay and other classes, the pressure to get the most out of my last few weeks of college, the genuine fear over what the future holds, all in addition to the guilt I feel when I realize that I am afraid of the future, combine into a heady mixture of angst perfectly calibrated to keep my eyes wide open even when the lights are off. Last week, though, I was having trouble falling asleep for a more specific reason: I’d realized it was my last spring break.
I am not sure exactly why this realization bothered me so much that night. So far this senior year I have experienced many “last events,” many of which, like the end of the cross-country season, should hold a much deeper personal significance to me. But even now I have trouble feeling the weight or finality of those moments. They passed by in such a way that there was no space to celebrate or mourn them. But spring break kept me up.
I think that it stuck in my mind at least in part because no one asked me to commemorate it. No one asked how I felt to be on my final spring break, or if I would do anything special this last time or if there was anything in particular I would miss about the holiday.
I find attempts to mark moments in time supremely frustrating. That is why I have always been bothered by New Year’s Eve parties. They are the definition of anticlimactic. Everyone counts down to zero and shouts, “Happy New Year!” But already and immediately the New Year is as mundane as the old one. We try to momentarily halt the progress of time, to give ourselves a moment outside of it to reflect on what was and what is to come, but we are frustrated. We are thirsty and tired and we want to talk to the cute girl across the room and so the whole previous year flees away from us and we cannot relive it. We are always thrown into the world.
Spring break, however, simply was. There was no capturing it; the time was passing by and it was up to me to use it as I saw fit. And because I made no attempt to capture it, I realized how futile that whole project was. What I realized while I stared at the ceiling in the midst of an unbearably humid Florida night was that there was no way to grasp the past. Memory is no help. It gives us snapshots, but not the experiences as we lived them.
When I came to Yale my freshman year, people always told me to make the most of my time because it would go by so fast. I realized that night that they were wrong. Four years is a long time and it does not go by fast. Every week is an epic saga filled with a thousand little dramas. However, retrospectively it seems fleeting because we cannot recover any of what came before. We have our paltry collection of memories, all insubstantial and unsatisfying, but nothing more. And so we string these bits and pieces together and are left with the sensation that it all went by so fast.
Of course, the point is not a sad one; it is simply a reminder of what really matters. We cannot live in the past or the future. We are only ourselves in this particular moment. And as things draw to a close, countless new possibilities open up to challenge and excite us. We all know this, I think. But this understanding will affect how I handle these final few weeks and the commencement ceremonies. This is not a time to yearn for what was or even to excitedly anticipate what will come. It is sufficient unto itself and should be enjoyed for what it is. So I will not cringe any longer when someone reminds me how few weeks we have left in school. I also won’t spend my time (as is my morose inclination) running through my precious memories and mourning my loss of place here. We only have our present moment, but that is more than enough.
Isa Qasim is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .