I was only able to fully embrace my experience at Yale once I reminisced about it wistfully. Only enjoying Yale upon looking back might sound like a sad, lost opportunity — until I tell you that this reflective day came about in the middle of my first semester of college.
This strange longing both for my current reality and what the next four years had in store did not come about organically. Instead, my cousin, a Yale alumnus, inspired this premature nostalgia one weekend when he was visiting.
I felt myself barely holding onto the tail of a week that had sprinted by at an unsustainable speed, hauling me through mountains of work and dragging me across the finish line, onto the next track for a delayed start to another week’s marathon. And yet, my cousin’s outlook upon my life here and his palpable longing for his own bygone era at Yale unmoored me from my current state of exasperation. It anchored me to his mentality — the mentality of one who longed for the thrill of the race after having irreversibly traversed the final finish line.
It wasn’t anything he said explicitly, but more so the soft sentimentality that poured from his pensive gaze as he looked around my cramped suite: my unmade bottom bunk, littered with stuffies, my cluttered desk, my cornucopia of hoarded fruit from the dining hall and the stale Halloween candy upon which I subsisted. My cousin examined each item with a covetous expression, as though he moved through a museum gallery of his past.
We spent the day walking through campus, arm in arm, as he asked me about my classes and enthusiastically told me about his favorites. As he led the way to obscure library nooks and undiscovered rooms, I explored the playground of the next four years of my life — he, the relics of a past he used to inhabit.
Everything I explained about my life and seemingly standard routine was suddenly enveloped in a veneer of exceptionality. The path I rotely took to class unexpectedly doubled as his memory lane. The faces I absentmindedly waved to along the way transformed into nebulous templates upon which he superimposed the characters of his past — whose story lines all ended upon his graduation, irrespective of whether or not they had reached a point of closure. And as my vision of my present landscape melted into his nostalgic perception of his past like Daliesque clocks, I began to covet my fleeting moments with the intensity of one who has already run out of time.
Through life, we’ve all been conditioned to continuously reach toward the future. We grasp for keys that promise entrance to increasingly exclusive realms of professionalism and power and end up feeling trapped in the infinite search for something more. Anxiously forecasting the future dimensions of our lives — the length of our resumes, the size of our houses, the scope of our legacies — we perpetually feel dwarfed by the present, ever-yearning for expansion.
When grappling with America’s pandemic of mass depression and anxiety disorders, many point accusatory fingers at our collective tendency to fixate on the future. An endless array of personal wellness articles tout mindfulness in the present moment as the panacea against our future-oriented panic. Take a walk. Meditate. Smell the roses. The mental health scriptures preach to a society of suffering sheep, marching forward together in a flock of common isolation.
Instead of straining our necks to longingly peer beyond our current vantage point, we should assume the perspective of our future-selves and gaze back at our present lives through the cherishing lens of nostalgia.
I can see it clearly: Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll find myself sitting in some sterile room, hunched over a computer, eyes glazing over as exhaustion pulls my consciousness elsewhere. Instinctively, my gaze will gravitate to the window. For just a moment — within the streams of dismal fluorescent light pouring from other offices — the window will morph into a wistful rear-view mirror, reflecting a hazy glimpse of Old Campus at night.
I’ll peer at a past version of myself, wild-eyed, darting through the trees at midnight, a soccer ball flying through the slush and sending a cape of water and mud jetting from every kick. I’ll remember that night: one of the many amongst close friends, when studying seemed particularly unappetizing and our craving for spontaneity triumphed. I’ll see myself sauntering down the cobbled pathway, mocking the six degree weather in seven inch heels on the way to that semi-formal. I’ll remember my friends and I feeling like the heroes from Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” as we forged through the frigid wall of wind, wondering if we would make it, our toes a brighter hue of red than our nail polish. I’ll see myself strolling in meditative circles around the Old Campus loop in the middle of the night, sometimes slipping into a deserted Dwight Hall to allow the silent hum of a sleeping Yale to harmonize with my thoughts. I’ll remember the music, always reverberating from somewhere, an ever-unidentified source. I’ll remember sitting in L-Dub courtyard at the end of a long Friday night — golden light and raucous cheer pouring into the darkness from every building around me, like a waterfall cascading off the side of the world.
Basking in the past, I’ll remember that feeling: the exhilaration of never quite knowing what would come next. Of knowing there was always so much more waiting to be experienced.
But I’m not in that room. I’m here. I refocus my gaze on the L-Dub lights illuminating the courtyard this evening. My eyes wander to my phone, and I’m shocked by how late it’s gotten — by how much time has passed by unannounced. Grabbing my box of board games under one arm, I fly down the stairs, toward the Bingham game night I’m late to. For a moment, I pause — in the heart of Old Campus, dwarfed by the trees, the soft darkness enveloping me. With a wistful smile, I continue on. Maybe, my nostalgia was just premature.
MINA CARACCIO is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .