If grief is the cousin of love, I have been in mourning since the day I stepped foot onto Yale’s campus. While that may be a stretch, as I flew home from my junior fall, denial finally succumbed to resigned acceptance as I acknowledged the gravity of the fact that soon the dream will end. Yale will be over. My sophomore fall feels like it was just yesterday. And on the brink of my junior spring, I am forced to acknowledge that I am as close to those Arcadian days as I am to my graduation.
The fact that Yale is ending is not newsworthy. It is a fact of life — like death, syphilis or the apocalypse. Nor is the fact that the end of this particular chapter will involve a process of grieving. I will grieve for the boundless potential that Yale once contained, for the days that all my best friends lived on the same block, for the luxuries of being a student.
For some, the fact of this eventual grief is more pressing than it is for me — seniors who just finished their last-ever course registration cycle in November. For others, this is something to look forward to.
Even so, my concern is not with my anticipation of grief, but with my awareness of it. I am less perturbed by the knowledge that I will grieve someday than I am by the self-knowledge that I am already wading through each semester with grief in my heart. Am I Shelley writing Adonais — my elegy for Keats — before he has published his third ode? I am painfully aware that the sands of time are slipping through my tightly clenched hands, that the grains that once contained my time at Yale will soon be scattered across the desert of my past.
On some days, such cognizance is just the motivation I need. To attend that speaker event I just saw a flier for, to go to the party where I won’t know anyone else because there are only so many parties like that left, to squeeze every last drop of Yale-ness out of its infinitely luscious fruit. On other days, it is paralyzing. Forcing me to interrogate the last two years of my life, terrified that I have not done Yale the “right” way. Adding to the burden of each unproductive, difficult, isolating day. If each day really is a gift, I am remiss to squander it with my melancholia.
In many ways, such terror is but a reaffirmation that I have done at least something right. That I have let myself love this place and its people so profoundly that they feel like a part of me. But I equally fear that I have let this college become my joie de vivre and without it, I will be tres desolé — retreating even further into my “Emily in Paris” binge-spiral. It would be much easier to hate it. How I wish I could be a disillusioned old curmudgeon, grumbling and muttering under my breath as I totter across that graduation stage and snatch the diploma from the Provost! Instead, I am as dewy-eyed and fresh as a spring chicken awaiting the slaughterhouse.
Perhaps, my fear reveals some psychological truth, one that I must later excavate with my introspection. Perhaps I mourn because, for once, I have no assurance that I will move onto better things. Perhaps I am just not ready to conceive of a whole life, one that I design on my own without the inbuilt scaffolds and communities of college. I wasn’t remotely this nervous when I graduated from high school. I knew there was more to come — more life, more people, a place where I could be more myself. After Yale, though, will I be stuck staring in retrospect? The past is a graveyard and I fear the day that I will be nothing but its custodian.
At the back of my mind a cyclone rages where every memory goes to be destroyed. What was once vivid, multisensory, and real, what once contained the tangibility of the present is inevitably sucked into the whirlpool, shredded to smithereens until it is but a mere scrap of memory. I can gather the scraps off the ground, I can glue the memories back together with my tears, but it will always have the fault lines, the missing edges of a collage. It may look complete, impressionistic, even, but it is a mere consolation, a pale imitation of the shortest, gladdest years of life.
If the setting of these bright college years is a microcosm for life to come, perhaps its end miniaturizes the ways I must reckon with change. Maybe I let myself get too comfortable in the kiddie pool. Perhaps I must be thrown into the deep of the ocean to rediscover my penchant for swimming, even if that does not mean I will stop longing for the hands that threw my overboard. Yes, Yale is a radiant place, but I would be wrong to let its radiance dim the excitement of the years to come. I admit I will never be fully comfortable with these self-assuring words. The anxiety that the best days of my life are slipping by me will continue to gnaw at me. And then one day, three years from today, when I’m finally well-settled, I’ll look back on this place with nothing but gratitude in my heart, comforted by the knowledge that though we may have been mere visitors, the best part of our short sojourn was that it taught us how to keep the best of college with us long after graduation.