Editors’ Note: This piece is a part of our Camp Yale issue, with opinions by incoming first-years.

In the London Tube, there’s a sign that reads “Mind the Gap” emblazoned in peeling white paint at the nexus where preoccupied passengers leap from the stable platform onto an imminently racing train. This summer, as I awaited my train from a bench blooming with graffiti, I watched as an impish young boy came careening forward and — little arms extended as though in magnificent flight — swerved dangerously close to the chasm where platform precipitated into track. His mother looked up from her phone and irately swept her wayward child into her arms, just in time for the train to pull into the station and for them to board, intent on their next destination.

Witnessing the close call, I chuckled to myself as I realized that, this past year, I had become that child, perilously coasting at the edge of uncertainty — and by choice, no less. This year, for the first time in my life, I had not anxiously leapt from one destination onto the vehicle that would propel me to my next, but instead had gloriously danced on the space in between. It was scary. It felt dangerous. It was exhilarating. For this past year, I did not mind the gap: I took it.

Before I decided to take a gap year exploring Indonesia, I had tethered myself to the linear track of time. I expected my seconds to be as quantifiable as my pennies and accomplishments, all three accumulating as time marched on. Time, if I kept up with it, would keep me progressing. Four years would escort me through high school; another four, through Yale. Traversing life with time at my arm as my reliable suitor, I knew I’d never fall: fall behind or, worse, into the threatening gap of uncertainty that plagues transition — I’d quickly step over those.

But while I had previously regarded time as a structural underpinning of life that inexorably and unobtrusively trots forward, my gap year taught me the exhilaration of engaging with it directly. When I stopped accounting for my seconds, time emerged from its backdrop and became palpable to an almost physical degree.

Many moments, I felt claustrophobic within the confines of time. The nights of intense fear — when the stilted bamboo hut that I lived in, amid a sea-faring nomadic tribe,
violently shook and threatened to collapse into the menacing Indonesian waters — every second asphyxiated me as I waited for it to end. Or the nights of violent homesickness, when I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to my family or friends for months. During those moments, hours melted into days like hot glass. Through the lens of each moment, I could see infinitely more lined up behind it.

Other moments, I felt like time and sentiment disagreed. The hand of time would point toward the ephemerality of every second, while sentiment would yearn for the eternity experienced within a single instant.

That shared, effervescent laugh — percolating through hollows of communication, mending the fractures born from language differences. That elation at the peak of Borobudur Temple when the morning mist’s white pall receded and the sun rose over the verdant expanse. That moment of hush, delicate dancing at the water’s edge, my homestay sister’s fingers softly tugging at mine. That night with the guitar.

Some moments of this past year were so intense, so distilled, that they felt like mini, undefined lifetimes. Moments so pregnant with joy, fear or wonder that they seamlessly transcended the seconds or minutes that birthed them. Time accelerated and halted in an unpredictable waltz — a wondrous, surreal sensation that “normal,” structured life obfuscates.

And now, I think about Yale. About the exciting but overwhelming mission to take advantage of our four years — packing in as many college activities, classes and friendships as will fit within the confines of our allotted time here.

And then, I remember that we must mind the gaps.

The moments we’ll sit on a bench and simply ponder. The moments of in-between, walking with a friend, or without a clue, toward a class, or away from a version of ourselves that we know we’ve outgrown and just need the courage to shed. The evening without the extracurricular; the summer without the internship. The moments when, flirting with the gaps, we might just fall — into the plunging recesses of existential uncertainty or, perhaps, in love.

Time tells us that we have four years, but we decide how to count and fill them. Sometimes, the most exhilarating moments reside within the nebulous negative space of our life’s canvas, ever-cluttered by productivity. The life within the gaps.

This past year I paused time, and it ended up being the most worthwhile.

A shrill whistle pierces my reverie as a rush of musty air pushes me back into the present. Rising, I pick up the overstuffed luggage resting at my feet and make my way toward the track. I glance at the letters coated in peeling white paint once more before taking a decisive step from the platform onto the train.

Next stop: New Haven.

Mina Caraccio is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at mina.caraccio@yale.edu.