Last week, after English 126, my friend and I walked to the Jonathan Edwards dining hall to eat breakfast. As I ate my two boiled eggs and my friend attended to his almond croissant, the clock ticked onwards and it was suddenly lunch time. Instead of leaving our seats, we stayed through lunch, discussing the strangest menu of things: classifications of our senses of humor (one category was simply “hair”), bird-like facial features, Wordsworth’s poetry. The conversation was wonderful, and yet I remember feeling a spark of inertia then, reminding me to move, to get on with the day.
I bring up this instance because the restlessness I felt — the impulse to move, as if it was somehow wrong to spend too much time in one place, just talking — is troubling and symptomatic of something larger at Yale. In class the other day, I noticed the number of students with their laptops out and several tabs open; they switched from one screen to the next, alternating between their emails, to their text messages, to their class notes. This is a routine practice for many, and yet I think it is significant: We are not able to stay in one place, even mentally; we have become accustomed to the practice of keeping several tabs open, literally and metaphorically.
There is a fear at Yale that if we are entirely present for a block of time, we risk missing something important. If we ignore our texts and emails for the entirety of class, we might miss an important message. This restlessness pervades other aspects of our life, for we sign up for extracurriculars that we might have little interest in, for fear that if we do not, we will somehow miss the opportunity to be part of the right thing.
We are preoccupied with being somewhere else. We often even speak in the future tense: Once we finish this problem set, or this paper, or this midterm, we will be able to relax. We will finally catch up with that one friend. We will watch that movie. We will write the stories we’ve been holding in our minds for so long. But, often times, even when we’ve finished the task at hand, we still don’t do the things we’ve been putting off. The test is replaced with the essay, the essay with the senior thesis, the senior thesis with the job search. And we will always conjugate our lives in the future tense, waiting to complete some infinite task, for which we defer our happiness to a later time.
Last semester, almost every night, my friend and I would sit in her room as she played guitar and we sang classic songs such as “Hallelujah” and “Let it Be.” Our singing was awful, but in these moments, I was at last in one place, the tabs in my mind fully closed, and I was happy.
It is, of course, incredibly difficult to practice deferring the future for the present. After all, how can we, or should we, reconcile the purpose of our education — to be cognizant of the world outside this academic bubble, a world wrought with headlines and pressing political and human questions — with being in one “place”?
Often times, though, our restless mindset counteracts true progress, for it produces a conception of New Haven as solely a vessel to something else. Most of us will only live in New Haven for four years, so we might think it pointless to understand it as more than the city that houses Yale. Each of us is here to pursue different things. Speaking to some of my friends about their postgraduate plans, I realized just how divergent our paths will be. So our time here, and the friendships we make, are likely ephemeral. This is why we might not bother to explore New Haven, why we can’t stand still, why we keep several tabs open.
This mindset perhaps prevents us from missing certain opportunities, but it also dilutes our daily experiences, rendering us unable to concentrate on the class, the place, the conversation at hand. This is unfortunate, for when we do live in the moment that stands before us, we can experience a kind of infinity.
I hope that while we are at Yale, we can stop before we diverge. Otherwise, we become deeply isolated in ourselves, in achieving the next thing. I hope that we learn to view New Haven in its complexity, as a place in its own right, and that we experience the city beyond Broadway Street or Whitney Avenue. I hope that we can truly see our friends, these buildings and the way the snow coats the ground like sugar. Most of all, I hope we realize that we can play the guitar now, sing now, write stories now.
Meghana Mysore is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .