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Contemplating with the Contemplative Commons

Connecting spiritually with the University construction sites, I learned to move on from the past and embrace the uncertainty of the future.

Each day, the construction didn’t seem to make much progress, but over a long time, the changes became recognizable.
Each day, the construction didn’t seem to make much progress, but over a long time, the changes became recognizable.

The Contemplative Commons project went into high-speed two months after I moved into the Kent dormitory in August 2022. The land that the project built upon was first an obsolete grassfield next to a dead-looking pond. After construction started, it turned into an even more grubby area with its unbearable smell and noises. Although I didn’t like the idea of having a construction site near my dorm, I did feel that there were some shared similarities between me and this mess — we were all once so tangled and trying to figure things out.

Unlike some of my friends who always knew that they would attend the University, I never envisioned myself in this small town called Charlottesville. Instead, my dream was to go to an Ivy League in New York, going to classes in cute outfits and taking notes on my pink laptop similar to the one Reese Witherspoon used in “Legally Blonde.” Not only did I not get into my dream school, but I also broke up with my ex, who got into this college, at the same time. After that moment, I felt like I was abandoned by my two major motivations in life just because I was not good enough.

Entering the University, I constantly felt trapped in the past. Seeing my friends who were still together with their high school sweethearts, I wondered if that could have been me had my relationship never failed. On the days that I got a bad grade on my exam, I was reminded of how I failed to reach my expectations. With these thoughts, my days felt like a never-ending, vicious cycle of self-contempt. I woke up, went to my 400-person lecture where nobody knew me, and did homework by myself before bed. No matter how many times I told myself that I was lucky to be a student here, I couldn’t convince myself that the past was over. 

One day, as I routinely walked over the bridge and appreciated the scenery between Brown College and Ridley Hall, I was struck by the beauty of the sunset, a unique shade of purple coloring the sky. Sometimes, as the sky gets dimmer, all the street lights on Emmet Street will become visible, reminding me how big the world is. 

The three-floored structure of the Contemplative Commons construction site stood out on the horizon. It was only three months after the project first started and the once dead, barren field became organized and alive. In the days after that, I regularly came back to the same spot of that bridge and watched the construction of the Contemplative Commons. After several consecutive days of work, the construction site became observably different from the “mess” I earlier thought about, giving out a sense of liveliness and hope. I was amazed by the process of turning a completely deserted land into a well-organized and stylish building. Each day, the construction didn’t seem to make much progress, but over a long time, the changes became recognizable. 

Staring at the half-built construction site, I started to view the University differently. I listened to the sounds of people talking, smelled the chilly air that mixed with some Newcomb Grill and recalled the happy memories that I overlooked at the University. I realized that I too can build my new life upon my tangled past step by step. 

I remembered the Friday night when everyone from my hall came to play music in my room. I remembered the excitement that I felt after sitting in a lecture hall for the first time. I remembered the cookies my friends brought me when I was sick from COVID-19 in the dorms. 

Just as I spent too much time focusing on the mess the construction created in my busy and sad days, I also focused on my past and neglected the fact that my college life had already guided me forward. There were so many new things I have done at Charlottesville. For the first time since I arrived on Grounds, I finally dragged my mind from the past to the present. 

As a second-year now, I have found my close friends, participated in clubs that made me feel proud as a “Wahoo” and gotten in a relationship that makes me happy. But it doesn’t mean that I have figured everything out. I am still unsure about my future. I still have days when I feel like a total failure. I’m still under construction, moving fast and slow. But the important thing is that I’m making progress. 

However, there are two things I am sure about. First, I appreciate each day of my life, whether good or bad. The second is that I no longer complain about the construction on Grounds. The Contemplative Commons is expected to open next winter. I can already imagine myself contemplating in there, taking a deep breath and heading off to a brand new day in my life. 

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