On a particular afternoon last week, after hours of reading and studying, I looked out of my bedroom window to a rainy Charlottesville street and got the sudden urge to get dressed. My single hybrid class was meeting in an hour, and I realized that I hadn’t stepped on Grounds in almost a month — aside from my drive to the Central Grounds parking garage to take my COVID-19 prevalence test. So I strapped on my boots and made the trek.
To my surprise, it was completely empty on Grounds — save a few hooded faces — and I wasn’t sure if it was the rain that kept people indoors, or if this was just the way things were these days. It was a bittersweet moment nonetheless. Although I was glad people were doing their best to stay safe, I was saddened by the bareness of a place that used to be so filled with life.
And realizing that I would only make this walk to class a few more times before I headed home for the holidays, I started to reflect on the last couple of months.
We all knew before it started that this semester was going to be a challenging one. First-year students were beginning a new chapter in their lives with limited opportunities to make connections, and the rest of us were walking into an experience at the University unlike what we’d previously grown to cherish.
We stayed locked in our apartments or dorms all day, and some of us stayed in our hometowns. Most of us limited our social lives and gave up freetime activities that had previously given us a sense of relief amidst rigorous course loads. We gave up gathering in person for large clubs, eating inside of our favorite crowded restaurants on the Corner with our friends and dancing on top of each other at parties. Although some of these things seem frivolous, maintaining social connection is vital to mental health, and staying connected felt impossible this semester.
We traded making friends in class for staring at faces in Zoom boxes. We studied alone in our rooms rather than in groups at the library. We poured all of our energy into computer screens for countless hours every day, and a lot of our efforts seemed to go unrewarded.
Considering all of the rigorous and emotionally exhausting challenges that this semester has had to offer, I feel an incomparable sense of relief knowing that the end is just around the corner. My sights have been glued to the vision of mental rest I see like a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a rest well-deserved.
While the road has been tough, all of the sacrifices we made this semester were necessary to keep ourselves, our friends, our families and our communities safe. The unprecedented effort we’ve put in over the past couple of months deserves some applause.
And as I took in the sight of those empty Grounds on that rainy afternoon, I realized that I would not know for certain when it will once again be filled with light and life again. I had been silently optimistic the entire semester that 2021 would offer a renewing breath of fresh air, but it’s clear now that spring semester will likely be just as foreign and challenging.
So even as I spend winter break taking as many deep breaths as I can to recover from a tumultuous few months, I know that the impending difficulties of next semester will be looming in a dark corner in the back of my mind.
But if I got through it once, I know that I can do it again.
I want to offer my applause to everyone who has fought tooth and nail this semester to make it through — be it academically, mentally, financially or what have you. I hope you hold on to the prospect of rest, the hope of someday returning to normalcy and the vision of a future for yourself and the world that will make all the hard times worth their while. And I wish that even on the rainiest of days, you will find your own piece of light within yourself and in the people around you.
I’ll end with this — I know the sun will come out eventually, so for now I’ll do my best to smile upon our grey and empty Grounds.
Aaron Doss is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org