This must be the place

On the beauty of passing time and the bane of counting down

lf17-MaryLong

At the end of my second year, I stood on the sidewalk of 14th Street and said goodbye to someone I thought I would never see again. The details of the story — who he was, who I was, who we were — aren’t so important as the idea of that scene — me, halfway through college, and he, about to finish it. And the two of us — me on the sidewalk, he on the front porch of his then-house — saying goodbye to each other. He was headed north for work, and he told me to let him know if I ever found myself in his new city.

“You’ll always have a place to say,” he told me. 

And as I walked away, up the street and into the summer, those words rang over in my mind, and I felt a tenderness for our short, unnamed something that I hadn’t felt prior to that point.

I had also felt, leading up to that moment, a hyper-sensitivity to the fact that my time in college and at the University was quickly closing. I felt that then, and I still had two years left. But I remember long phone calls with my father around this time during which we talked about that feeling, that awareness that your time in some place is limited, that overwhelming nostalgia for something you know will one day be over but has not yet officially ended. And, paired with that wistfulness, a wishing that you will take advantage of every remaining moment and not let one day go to waste.

At that time, two years ago, I couldn’t imagine being where I am now. Done with all of my college classes, less than a month until graduation, staring out at the years ahead with only the unknown. And yet, here I am. And — my second-year-self would be surprised to know — I feel fine.

There was a moment at the beginning of this year when I was in a meeting in which everyone was asked to offer up three words explaining how they hoped to feel upon graduation. 

“Reverence and thankfulness,” I said when it got to be my turn. 

And that, now, is what I’m feeling — a reverence, a thankfulness. I’m not yearning to return to or repeat my past four years here. But I am so very, very thankful for the memories that those years have given me, the people they’ve brought me and the lessons they’ve taught me. I am so thankful that all those years, quick though they were, were so wonderful. So wonderful, even when individual days brought difficulties. Stresses, fears, worries, wonders. Goodbyes.

I was walking home in the late evening not so long ago, and something struck me about the way the wraparound twinkly lights on the front porch of my little white house on 14th Street looked. And I had a moment — a quick moment — when I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll miss this so much.”

But then, right after, I realized. I needn’t miss something when I know that I can bring it back. What, from that scene, would I really be saying goodbye to, come graduation? My house, sure. But what about the front porch, the lights, the people? None of that needs to go away. They can, and they might. But they don’t have to. You can have an always-open, often-used front porch anywhere, at any time, not just in college. You can decorate with nice lights and welcome signs anywhere, anytime, always. You can bring back old friends, go visit them, keep in touch. You can also — it’s always nice to remind ourselves — find new friends and keep your old ones. Or introduce to them to each other and grow your circles wider.

Goodbyes. They’re daunting and deafening. But we ought not be so scared of them, I think. Because we never really know when they’re happening, even when we spend so much time counting down to them.

Counting down. I don’t care so much for that. It puts too much focus on endings and not enough on what’s happening afterwards, and what’s happened before. I’m not so much one for endings, either — I prefer far more to focus on beginnings and becomings.

But also — what we so often think of as endings are rarely ever that. Last summer while in Madrid, I ran into a great friend whom I had met while abroad three years earlier. It was sheer coincidence, totally unexpected and as if, when we got to talking, nothing had changed. This spring, while in California, I met up with and forgave a person whom I had separated from the year before, whom I had once shared an awkward goodbye-for-forever with and who I was so glad to unexpectedly see again.

People come back, even when you don’t expect them to. I think back to that goodbye from two years ago — “You’ll always have a place to stay” — and I laugh now when I remember thinking to myself that I would never see him again. We’re great friends, which is funny if you know the story, and we meet up when we’re in the same city. And I think, really, that I know him better now than I did back then. That goodbye was a good one — while I thought it to be so certain at the time, it wasn’t really a goodbye at all.

There’s a great song by The Talking Heads called “This Must Be the Place.” And there’s a chorus in that song that goes, “I love the passage of time / Never for money, always for love.” 

There’s time for nostalgia, of course. But when I think back on my time here and I look ahead to graduation and all the unknown that lies beyond, I think of those lines — I love the passage of time. It’s a good thing to keep going, and it’s a good thing to see what’s next. We can always remember, but we should always look ahead, do all things with love and put more of our focus on saying hello than worrying about saying goodbye.

Mary Long is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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