I walk outside and am greeted with a blast of cool air and a flash of warm sunlight. I feel in my bones the minor chill and fluttery excitement of a new year. People rush around, hugging each other quickly, smiling uncertainly, swaggering down Mead Chapel Hill. It’s fall at Middlebury, and it’s my last. What happened?
I spent most of last night with two people who I am extremely close to on this campus, people I met on my freshman hall. One of them was unpacking and little notes, jokes, and pick-me-ups I had written over the years surfaced in the papers he had saved. They created a patchwork of memories: hilarious, bittersweet, intense, difficult, silly. We played guessing games as to when exactly they were written; we reminisced and remarked on how much we all had changed. I felt something tug at me somewhere deep and inaccessible, and I let it hurt. I think I will be doing a lot of this, and I think it will be a very good thing.
Middlebury hurts a lot of the time; you appreciate what you have, and you ache to retain it. The idyllic setting, the small classes, the engaged professors, the wide and easily accessible network of strong and supportive friends. These are things that are great, and inevitably there is pain when you are reminded that it doesn’t last forever. I have often felt guilty for feeling this pain because I feel like it makes it more difficult to appreciate the present moment. But now I realize that it is part and parcel of the present moment: it is a fluid sting, a natural accompaniment to love. Whereas in past years I have fought it, now I welcome it.
My wistfulness was also – pleasantly, in some sense – accompanied by nerves. It’s invigorating to feel some first-day jitters even as a senior. The campus feels new again, as it does every fall. I am changed, but I enter every year as a new iteration of myself; I get the chance to put a new kind of “Rachel” into action. I wait for results, I hope for the best, I get butterflies – I feel a part of the living, highly active organ that is this campus. I feel ready, and in that readiness, I feel a healthy level of expectation and even insecurity. I know I have attained a certain level of ownership of this place, but I also like to acquiesce that grip and let myself flow in the sometimes chaotic rhythm of it all. I’m a senior, but I only feel like one as often as not.
I have a lot to learn this year. I feel it in every step I take on the concrete, every breeze that unsettles my hair. In some ways I’m just a kid. But for the adult I am becoming, I have Midd to thank for making it painful.