Our first year at Yale, many historic things happened. One of these events, probably less well-known but important nonetheless, was the snow day. Rumor had it that it was the first snow day in 11 years. Some of us still had class, unfortunately — I trudged up Science Hill for my 9 a.m. But there was indisputably some magic about seeing the snow persistently fall and having no choice but to stay cozy or brave a few snowflakes on our tongues. To me, it felt like Buffalo, my hometown, where we’d have snow days, even snow weeks, at least a few times a year. But more importantly, it was a chance to pause.
At Yale, there’s always this feeling of asking yourself, “What’s next?” It’s no secret that we constantly obsess about the future, often forgetting what it means to appreciate today. Most of our conversations revolve around questions like “What are you doing this summer?” and “Are you planning on going to grad school?” (We’ve barely finished the school year, let alone undergrad.) Or the Kate Krier classic, “What are you doing this weekend?” (Let me get through the week, first.) Even fellowship application questions feed into this, asking “Where do you want to be in five years?” It’s quite an unfair question — as a junior in high school, I certainly would not have predicted where I am now. Regardless, the message is clear. We are programmed to keep the future in mind, to the point where we drown out our daily life.
Yet, when reflecting upon my four years, I notice that the best moments at Yale were those when I didn’t feel the pressure of time, when I didn’t have somewhere else to be — or maybe I did, but didn’t really care. Those moments when we were present and nothing more. The moments that force us to stop and stand in wonder, laugh our insides out, or feel deeply.
I expected to have most of those present moments in my final weeks at Yale: appreciating the company of my fellow seniors without fretting about our next reunion. Ironically, we are even more on pause than we may have anticipated.
Unlike a snow day, this is a global pause. Internships and jobs that we worked so hard to secure are put on hold or canceled entirely; that summer trip is obviously not going to happen. This is not how we planned our ending at Yale. We don’t know what the future holds, and this uncertainty is daunting. As sad as it is, we are forced to do nothing and live in the present. And that is not entirely a bad thing.
At Yale, we may be hanging out with a friend only to be reminded of the GCal event we have in 15 minutes or, worse, feel guilty for spending that time with a friend at all. Even if we have time, we may be absent-minded — worried about an upcoming assignment or meeting. Yet now, we are fully present when we connect with peers because we have nowhere else to go. That meal we’ve been meaning to grab? We may as well devote that time now, sans loud dining halls and a packed schedule.
Phone calls and video chats are exhausting sometimes. You may have called your friend and asked how they were for the hundredth time, yet nothing has really changed. I would argue that this is a positive thing. Instead of asking superficial questions about each other’s days, we can delve into meaningful questions: How does it feel to be in your childhood bedroom? What bucket list items did you complete at Yale? How does your family shape you? Maybe pull up the “36 Questions That Lead to Love.” After all, we have time to ask and listen.
Now we have the opportunity to cherish those moments on the phone, the stories we didn’t get to hear on common room couches. We have time to really reflect on what our four years mean to us. How will we make sure the relationships we’ve made last into our post-graduate lives? We have unstructured time today, when tomorrow doesn’t quite matter.
I hope that we take this as a lesson to live more presently. To do things that make us happy today and not worry about tomorrow. To live constantly in the future is a recipe for unhappiness. Yes, there is excitement in looking forward. But do not let the future consume you. We can work hard for the future without worrying about it and end up in the same successful place. As we’ve seen, too much is out of our control. We can control today, maybe tomorrow, but we really can’t control the next five years. So live presently.
As it snows where I am quarantined — yes, in May — I like to pretend that it’s a snow day. Many of us have nothing to do and are hopefully staying inside. Instead of wondering — when will we get to move on? — let’s think of the best way to live today.
Hala El Solh is a graduating senior and staff columnist in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org