My freshman year is almost over. The realization came at a most inopportune moment, as I watched a video of a squirrel eating a lemon in the late hours of a Thursday night. That evening was one of the slowest, and sweetest. After dinner, I planned all the assignments I would start early. Not about to start too early, I meandered into conversations about anything and everything with a friend. We watched the colors of the sky settle into placid pastels, and the low rays of the sun caress the top of buildings on campus and Morningside alike. Fixating on an ever-lengthening horizon, it was easy to cease the flow of words and stop.
Stopping was unthinkable in September.
There was an unnamed something about orientation week that forbade not being in constant motion. The moments I did not spend meeting new people seemed wasted. One of my many high school graduation cards read, “try not to spend college in your room!” I took this to heart. In fact, my expectations of a magical first week were such that I was terrified of being alone at all. I didn’t want to ruin it, whatever it was.
It’s worth mentioning that I hated orientation week.
I often woke up with a buzzing feeling of nervousness. I went through my days second-guessing my actions, wanting to recapture my words after they had escaped me. I ceased to carry a sketchpad, but pulled out my cellphone as soon as I even had to walk to my classes by myself. I was increasingly helpless before the contacts that just wouldn’t evolve into friends. Most of all, I felt distinctly unlike myself.
Months later, I realized the problem was that I wasn’t feeling at all. Or rather, that I hadn’t allowed myself to think about what I felt, even though I had been warned.
Before I left and when I could still reach for my dad’s hand, he urged me to sit down and reflect as much as possible. At the time, I was infatuated with the possibilities of never-sleeping city lights, and the deep discovery of other human beings. Who has time to sit down in New York City, after all? Who in his right mind can choose thoughts over actions?
It goes without saying that I was wrong. In my defense, it isn’t common to value a night in solitude over one spent at a party, especially in the throes of freshman year. But in affirming that, what type of behavior are we defending? At times, I found myself preferring the company of people I didn’t like. When we turn our attention inward, there is no place to hide. Thinking alone is like playing chess against yourself. You can’t help but anticipate the next move—it’s impossible to win.
But it’s also impossible to lose. Too often, we relegate solitude to a corner with negative connotations like being antisocial or self-absorbed. There is a time and place for everything. Spending a couple of hours lost in thought will always lead to more meaningful interactions than texting someone and pretending to know them.
It’s not just about richer relationships with others. Reflection is the root of creativity, and new ideas. Perhaps a lack of aimless thinking is the reason there doesn’t seem to be much to discover anymore. A cycle of cynicism and impatience with our own thoughts separates us from the childish and simple excitement of arriving at our own conclusions.
I slowly slipped back into my skin after I reassured myself there was nowhere I needed to run. Whether because I grew wiser or lazier, I stayed in my room to write letters or doodle in the margins of my notes more and more. Soon enough, it was acceptable, and even respectable, to watch videos of squirrels eating lemons, and think about the inevitable passage of time.
Cecilia Reyes is a Columbia College first-year. She is on the board of the Artist Society. Reyesing Expectations runs alternate Mondays.