The sun rises in the east, which means that my room in Berkeley — with wide, shadeless, west-facing windows — is washed in a brilliant golden hue during autumn twilights. The effect is sumptuous and humbling and marvelous at once, but that is not the point. (Although, it is not entirely beside the point.) The point is that the sun rises and sets every day, and I continue to truck along.
This is a quaint observation, but let me explain. During winter break I went to Idaho with six friends I’ve known since exactly the first day I moved to Berkeley a week before my freshman year of college. While college is a rumspringa from the reality we’re undoubtedly hurtling toward and frantically preparing for, the trip was independence unhinged: Cocooned in each other’s company, we spent the week trekking around a small prairie town of wood shanties and precarious ski slopes — curling into the comfortable familiarity of time spent just noticing, conversing, observing.
We were supposed to leave Idaho for California on a Friday, but foggy weather conditions prompted Delta Airlines to reroute our flight to an airport three hours away. As a result, we arrived at the wrong airport at the wrong time. We would not be leaving on Friday.
We also determined that the trek back to our cabin would take awhile — especially because we didn’t know exactly how to get there and because direct public transportation from the airport stopped operating at night. By the grace of Google Maps and the faint promise of headlights on a highway, we shuffled through packed snow and black ice with our suitcases and ski bags to a bus stop two miles away. It was freezing in the dark. We did not wear gloves. We carped about the fog and we damned Delta Airlines. Ultimately, however, we assumed things would work out because things had always worked out because we are lucky and smart and too puerile to seriously consider an alternative.
It’s tricky to characterize being stuck in Idaho, because there isn’t an exact word for the sudden rousing of attention that specifically results from a tolerably adverse circumstance: When real emergency is absent, but we nonetheless derive self-importance from our perceived plight. It is a disposition reserved for the privileged few who know they’re in no dire straits, but long for the pull of immediacy nonetheless. Not quite self-imposed schadenfreude, not quite optimism — a reprieve from a latent feeling of maturated boredom.
It is absurd, really, to be 20 years old and in college and feeling callow. Though the episodic construction of a university experience ought to make it easy to avoid stasis, I often find myself concerned about the implications of this or of that to a point of near paralysis. I am brazenly curious; I am impossibly slow to contemplate. This is partly because I always underestimate the scale of apprehension piqued by strong interest and partly because, at 20 years old, I am anachronistically concerned with fleeting time and cramming Life Experience into that time.
I think about that a lot.
Before coming to Berkeley, I made a list: What I Want In College. It was imprecise and charming, and in it I wrote things like: “Become a better writer. Fail! Fall in love with someone. Just trust sometimes, OK??” At its core, the list was a series of reminders to go with the flow — albeit, thoughtfully. Though new observations have begotten and shaped new personal ideals over the past two years of college, it scares me to think that the aberrant moments of getting stuck are the only moments in which I’m consciously aware of the choices that, together, form my gestalt. To be marooned in Idaho meant thinking about decisions. But it also begged the question: What if I had made my flight?
Of course, there will not always be an airplane and, of course, this is a ludicrous metaphor. Still, routinely failing to appreciate the zeitgeist of my college experience seems like a perverse use of time — especially if the appropriate treatment of the stuff of our existence is to think about it, and the appropriate use of an education is to become better at thinking. Mostly, however, I don’t want to overlook the unremarkable elements of 20: The superlatives and petty tensions, the incessant hyperbolizing, the rhetoric. The questions and the teachers. The good eggs.
So there must be noticing. And contemplating. And, if I’m lucky, a semester’s worth of golden rooms and a lifetime of missed airplanes.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.