In an oddly vivid memory I have of my childhood, I’m in the backseat of my mother’s cozy Honda, sitting directly behind the driver. Outside the windows is a blur of red and yellow lights against the darkness of a suburban night. My mother comes directly from work and picks me up — I have my bags packed, ready to go. We make a quick stop at the grocery store for my dinner — a box of Lunchables — and speed over to my piano teacher’s one-story house. We always make it on time — on the dot at 6:30 p.m. We hustle because we know all too well that a minute late is a dollar lost.
In between my mother’s hectic work life, our church commitments and my elementary school schedule, we never ran late. But I’ve found our conceptions of time and timeliness to be quite different on campus. We value others’ time as less important than our own.
During my elementary school years, my mother raised me essentially as a single mother. Working a long job, she signed me up for end-of-school care, a supervised program that allowed me to stay in the school cafeteria until 6 p.m. Every evening, after my mother wrapped up work, it was an unpredictable battle: her against highway traffic. Knowing that being late would rack up a bill, my mom always arrived on time. We never got fined. Unconsciously, punctuality and a fear of lateness became ingrained in me as a child.
However, now it’s rare if I’m on time to anything — meals, club meetings, even classes. As I hastily tie my shoelaces and hustle out of my suite, I message my friends “I’m running a few min late” or “omw sorry!” all too often. When I arrived on campus, people often showed up late to class, normalizing tardiness. Soon, I joined the herd.
For those who know me on campus, this might seem ironic, but I actually grew up despising tardiness. It felt like a broken promise — blatant disregard for a schedule that I had committed to and one that others depended on. But at Yale, I feel as if we all put our own schedules first and treat our commitments to others — big and small — as secondary to our own momentary needs.
Yale optimizes our lives. We’re housed in Gothic castles with meals prepared for us in dining halls a few steps away. If it snows, we can hear the toil of workers shoveling through the night so we can make it to class the next morning. Our living circumstances here, for the most part, reflect immense privilege. In many ways, I feel as though I was on time when circumstances were harder. Now that everything is so much simpler, I’ve become fickle and unappreciative.
But each person’s reasons for tardiness are different. Perhaps it’s because we have too many vibrant minds, famous speakers and informative events to attend. So we fill our calendars to the brink, then “flake” on meals because we’ve procrastinated on an assignment and need to take care of ourselves first.
I’m an advocate of self-care, but at Yale, have we begun to allow this concept to excuse our own self-interest? Yes — the deep-rooted, camouflaged self-interest that probably got us to this campus in the first place still finds its way into our lives today.
We normalize running late and develop deep empathy for those who exhibit similar behavior, only perpetuating its prevalence. No one can change our schedules but us, so reflect and be intentional. I didn’t even realize how warped my conception of time was until I went home during Thanksgiving break.
A few of my close friends and I wanted to play board games. I texted them to come over in half an hour and proceeded downstairs to join my parents for dinner, knowing very well that home-cooked meals never last less than an hour. Unfazed, I didn’t see it as a problem. Out of habit, I assumed they’d be late too. They weren’t.
MICHELLE FANG is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her columns run on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .