The snow is melting. Outside, the cold gathers what remains of itself, the last few masses of white steaming on the ground like New Year’s fish. Even with the entropy of the melted snow, there is still a stubborn persistence within the remaining piles — a feeling of solidarity amid disorder. It is 2021, and I am back on campus after nearly a year, lingering in the almost-spring of a Cross Campus afternoon.
I have not yet known springtime at Yale, having spent the last quarter of my first year at home in light of the coronavirus. I’d barely gotten a taste of the warming weather before leaving, so I soak it in now, admiring the light of the descending sun against the nearby rooftops, turning the gray stone orange as if lifting a warm coal from between blankets of ash. The colors are softer now in the absence of winter’s stark white backdrop. My suitemate and I watch a few students kick around a soccer ball in front of the steps of Sterling Library; it’s almost midterm season, but the air is clean after the morning’s rain, the students relaxed in the cool of early evening.
For many moments of my first year, I saw the world through currents of snow. I remember bundling up in thick coats and scarves to summit East Rock with friends, our laughter made visible by the condensation of our breaths. I remember group lunches after Directed Studies lectures, when we moved outside to eat just as the ice was beginning to thaw. And I remember when spring break bled into summer, when there were no more dinners or dances to walk to on freezing nights, when lunches relocated to Zoom instead of the TD courtyard.
Now, after a remote fall semester, sophomores are back on campus. New and old faces break free of their pixelated forms as we shift, somewhat dazedly, back to college life: Suddenly, it is spring again. Suddenly, we are here again, in almost a continuation of our truncated first year. The University is freshly lined with social distancing cues and testing centers, but the sun still sets in the same color. The snow still melts in familiar tracks, flowing down the same gutters as its past incarnations. The late-night conversations quickly revive themselves, though there are spaces we reinhabit that feel larger than before, not in the least due to the far lower number of students in residence. We venture back to our old haunts, which wait empty for us, our memories like layers of dust over the wood paneling.
When things melt, it is really just an act of loosening. The sun frees water molecules from their orderly structure; the ice un-hardens, but not without some resistance, clutching onto its solidity in the face of the changing seasons. Being on campus again feels like this, like clinging onto a reality that has grown aqueous and uncertain. The things we might have imagined our bright college years to be cannot survive in the same form as we envisioned them, at least not on the surface.
Still, we are fortunate to be here, facing the semester together. Spring is a time for beginnings, but to begin requires the breaking down of an older version of the world — a reality that cannot return in the same state as before, but which seeps through to feed the growth of the new. It’s a different kind of persistence — one that necessitates the vulnerability of melting, our ability to collectively adjust and flow with the changing times. We let go of how we thought these next few years would be in order to adapt to how they will be. We put on our masks; we take our virtual classes; we endure by changing our habits and expectations to what each new season calls for. The snow melts in sacrifice to the spring.
Back in my room, I play music from my laptop and write down the ideas that have been swirling around in my mind. The final night of the Lantern Festival has ended, and with it, the last of 2020. It is the Year of the Ox, and we are here in New Haven at the cusp of the seasons, anxious maybe, but with the glow of the new year in our faces like lamplight.
We hold our old visions of the world close to our chests, watching the water fall in. And then, like the snow, we will let go.
Baylina Pu | firstname.lastname@example.org