Every day of my freshman year, I walked through a gate bearing the statement “Enter to grow in wisdom”. The gate was my portal to the outside world, right outside of my window, the nearest way to access anything beyond of the narrow confines of Harvard yard. But upon returning, going back into the sanctuary of campus, I’d be reminded. Enter to grow in wisdom.
College is a weird time. You leave home, live in some slowly crumbling dorm and meet a bunch of people who use phrases like “minoritizing perspective”. In my first week, I’d already met two opera singers, which was more opera singers than I ever thought I would meet in my whole life.
Coming off of the heels of my first year, it’s easiest to see only the best parts of Freshman year. The first time I wrote an essay that didn’t totally suck. Learning to skateboard. Late nights with friends doing absolutely nothing and yet absolutely everything.
And let me be clear; I got lucky. I had an easy transition to college, loved my roommates, had great classes, made real friends early on. I was only two hours from home, and never was truly homesick. I’d lived through New England winters before, and knew how to layer to stay warm in -10 degree weather.
But however smooth my transition was, the first few months were challenging. The truly meaningful moments of college take time. Creating deeper friendships, going from seeing people just in the dining hall to hanging out in the wee hours takes time. Learning how to think about books in a way that is conducive to writing essays takes time. Finding the shortest way from the quad to my room takes time. The necessary self reflection of growing up takes time.
The best piece of advice I got all year came from my English professor. “It takes time to be about time.” He was talking about the length of Anna Karenina, how the novel is necessarily long so that it takes a significant amount of time to read, each moment stretching out in both literarily and real time. A gorgeous concept, and one that made reading capital-b Books a more forgiving process. It was also a concept that seemed to reflect everything I was experiencing as a freshman.
The day to day of freshman year was long, but the month to month, semester to semester, so short. If this first year as been any indication as to how the rest of college will go, it’ll be over in a flash. Putting in time, the care necessary to learn, to grow relationships, to live a life truly worth living, takes time. So much of college is repeated experience, eating in the same place, seeing the same people, walking the same paths. And it takes time to allow those singular moments to come together into an ongoing past, the imperfect tense created by the compiling effect of memory.
But time is also at a premium in college. Every moment is a choice between activities, each yes a no in equal measure. There’s a business economy, clout measured in brightly colored google calendar blocks of time. Friendships, clubs, schoolwork, dating, working, sleep are all placed in opposition to each other. And as much as everybody has to find their own equilibrium, I heard far too many people bragging about stress and inability to commit to anything by nature of committing to everything not to feel like the Harvard perception of time is massively skewed.
I can’t speak for anybody else, can’t pretend to understand anybody else’s perspectives (another lesson gleaned from that English professor is the inability to understand other’s thoughts unless you can inhabit their mind through stream of consciousness narration or the first person perspective). But if Harvard has taught me anything, beyond the history of urban renewal, beyond Keynesian macroeconomic theory, beyond what the best food in Harvard square at 3 a.m is, it’s to take that time. Have a longer meal with a friend. Stay all the way through a Q and A session at the end of a lecture. Spend just one more moment watching the sun set by the Charles river.
In those moments where I felt left behind, where it seemed everybody had it all figured out and I had just fallen back to square one, it became my mantra.
I’m taking my time to be about time.