There is nothing I relish more than the experience of putting on a new pair of shoes: the excitement of the unboxing, the anticipation of breaking in the un-broken-in, the eagerness to wear creases into the un-creased. But mostly, I mean it metaphorically: slipping into someone else’s skin and assuming their persona, if only for a brief moment.
The first time I engaged in this strange pastime was on my first and only college tour, back when high-schoolers still struck fear in my nine-year-old heart and university, a word too long for me to spell, was only a fiction of a most distant future. As my tour group and I ambled across the campus, students speckled sunny lawns, slipping in and out of the stateliest structures with studied casualness, assuming the purposeful strut that reveals one’s familiarity with a place.
Brushing against them in the same space, our Otherness betrayed us — the way we proceeded in a pack, stumbling to a halt under gothic arches, rubbing bronze statues golden, huddling outside gates we could only dream of entering and wishing silently that we had the Golden Ticket of admission that would grant us swipe-access.
In the moments when I wasn’t awestruck by the effortless eloquence with which my tour guide chronicled his school’s history, I remember indulging in that guilty pleasure of people-watching, longing to inhabit their identities, to step out of my Converse and into theirs.
What lay behind those arched windows that separated us? Did the rooms beyond swell with piano serenades, with conversations on the pointless and the profound? The group of three over on that table — were they contending with free will and determinism or simply with the contents of their Caesar salad? The girl with the blue book bag, walking to class or to the library — was there any possibility, even the slightest scope in my destiny, that I could be like her one day?
Now, when I walk across Beinecke Plaza, past tour groups admiring its marble cladding, I wonder what it takes to efface that boundary between outsider and insider, to look out of the windows you once looked into. Because somehow, here we are: filling the shoes we most wanted to wear, walking them down Hillhouse Avenue, schlepping them up Science Hill, muddying them in the back of party houses.
As I frequent 300-year-old libraries and make habitual their hallowed hallways, I find myself attempting to thwart the tendency of time to color a place with that cast of the seen-before, to whittle away at its newness like a pair of shoes softened with wear.
What is it about good things that make us take them for granted? By resting in the rhythm of routine, do we end up forgoing the fresh for the familiar, the dreamlike for the dull? Please, let it never get old. Let there never be a time when Harkness Tower bells that ring every day begin to feel just everyday.
Maybe, these clusters of hopeful high-schoolers are glimpses of our pre-convocation selves, a reminder on our most stressful days to step out of the Stacks, to draw open our dorm drapes, to stop sleepwalking through our student lives. To shake ourselves out of our numbness. We’re at Yale; most days, we have no idea how lucky we are.
Perhaps, then, by reliving again that outside longing that once kept us sharp, we can resurrect routine. Perhaps, the march of time and the repetitiveness it brings can polish to a gleam, like Woolsey’s golden right shoe, our lived experience here at Yale. Because the privilege of being on the inside comes with a responsibility: to inhabit the momentariness of each moment here fully, to hold in our backpacks the same excitement we did on our first day of classes, and to savor the squeak of our new blue shoes, long after they’ve taken the shape of our feet.
KEYA BAJAJ is a first year in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact her at email@example.com.