Last Monday, my friend and I arrived to class an hour early (or rather, the class actually started an hour later than the time that was posted online). With an hour of unexpected free time, I followed her outside to the Oval where we passed the time lying in the grass, simply reading for pleasure. There was a perfect light spring breeze, and my mind was so at peace. I was happy to settle into the rhythm of the place for once, instead of simply diving into class. My friend said that it’s one of her favorite places on campus, and though I always aesthetically admire Stanford’s lush, beautifully manicured lawns and benches sheltered by groves of flowering trees, I don’t often stop and actually spend time in these places. To just be.
Maybe it is because this is my final quarter at Stanford, but every time that I go anywhere, I am overcome with the warmth and beauty of this place. I am reminded of this when I run the Dish and look down to the bay below, when I walk across the quad in the morning mist or when I watch the sky around Lake Lag fill with streaks of pink and orange at sunset, but I do not always stop to fully admire what we have here.
There is a difference between passing through a place, passively appreciating it, and actually spending time somewhere and learning the stories of that place. A difference between looking up at the palm trees while biking through the quad and pausing to sit on one of the round stone planters. Stopping, you can feel the rough, cool stone on your fingers as you let the sun warm your face. You can watch people pass by, laughing, talking, crying. Maybe someone will sit next to you and you will be able to start a conversation and maybe learn some of this person’s stories.
I often think about all of the people who I pass on a daily basis. Even just within the microcosm of Stanford, there are so many humans with so many lives I will never meet. I will never know more than just their passing faces on the way to my next class. These people occupy the same physical spaces as I do, but their stories of Stanford and of these places are unique.
Stanford means many different things for everyone. I am lucky to have loved my four years here and to have grown, changed and been challenged as much as I have. Stanford is not always an easy place to live, and it is not always easy to admit that there are many flaws in this seemingly idyllic community.
The first time I cried in public was by the fountain outside of Memorial Church. It was halfway through fall quarter of freshman year, and I had just found out that I might fail my first math class at Stanford. I remember sitting on the fountain, crying on the phone to my mom and being scared to go back to my freshman dorm. This was in the heyday of YikYak. For some reason, I opened this dubious app and saw this anonymous post:
“To the girl crying outside of MemChu: it’s going to be okay.”
Yep, that was me. My fifteen seconds of fame at Stanford were as the girl crying in public outside of a church. Thankfully, YikYak is gone, but I like to remember this story. I think about it every time I walk by that fountain and it makes me laugh now.
Physical spaces have a special way of triggering memories or feelings. Even though I have had plenty of wonderful, stimulating conversations in the fountain’s general vicinity since then, of course I always think about the one time that I cried there. It’s the one time that I actually stopped and fully occupied that space for more than a few passing moments. It’s the only time where I allowed my emotions to come into that physical space with me.
When we are are simply passing through places it is much harder to engage with the others in the space. Sometimes, when people ask me in passing how I am, I don’t know how to respond. At Stanford, it seems that the only socially acceptable answers are either some variation of “I’m doing well,” or “It’s Week [insert number here] and I’m drowning in work” or “Senior Spring baby!” Either you’re great and everyone wishes they were as lucky as you, or you are taking too many units because you are a motivated, dedicated Stanford student, and everyone should know how busy you are. You’re sorry, but you just simply do not have time to stop and chat on this really beautiful bench in the quad because you are late to a meeting, or phone call or study group, but yes let’s get that meal soon.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, but I am trying to be better. In the next ten weeks, I want to remember to stop, to listen, to feel and to breathe. I want to get out of my house fifteen minutes early every few days so that I can sit outside and journal in the sun before going to class. To physically occupy the spaces that I have passed the past four years. To center my mind amidst the rush of the next ten weeks before I leave this place for good.
A few moments of unexpected peace can change the entire outlook of a day. They are a way to remember to be grateful for being alive. If all else fails, remember that you can take classes credit/no credit. That’s what I did. And it was certainly okay.