CROSSING THE YARD
I was thoroughly collegiate on March 1. I woke at the ripe hour of 10:30 a.m. and immediately went to check my e-mail. At home I was a fervent anti-technocrat, but I have had to adapt-here at college, checking your e-mail is more important than that first cup of coffee. After trekking to Rubin's Deli in Brookline for lunch with a friend, I returned to Harvardland to finish up my work before the much-anticipated Freshman Formal that night. I checked my mail in the monstrosity we call a Science Center, and then set out to cross the Yard and head home. What I saw should not have struck me, but it did.
It was a uniquely beautiful afternoon and, caught up in the scenery as I was, I almost missed all the commotion around the John Harvard statue. By sheer accident I glanced over and saw 30 or so young kids, perhaps 11 years old, clustered around an older gentleman who was apparently serving as their guide. He was, not surprisingly, telling them all about the "Statue of the Three Lies" (although, keenly aware of his audience, he mercifully omitted the "Hoar House" anecdote). When he had finished, he called out, "So, do you guys want to take a picture with the statue?" The unanimous, high-pitched answer: "No, that's okay!" Not one to give up, however, he had them all scrunch in around Johnnie H, gripping the base of the statue and yelling "cheese." Laughing heartily, the guide exclaimed, "Look how many of our kids are Harvard boys and girls!"
Almost all of the children were wearing sports jerseys or jackets, most with New York teams on them. Loyal New Yorker that I am, I approached one of the chaperones and inquired where the group was from. "Long Island, NY," came the reply. I piped right up and told her that I was from Manhattan, to which she retorted, "Does anybody still live there?" I smiled. "Not anymore."
It was an indescribably awkward moment. I could not believe how young they seemed. After all, it was only yesterday that I stood around that statue with my seventh grade class, gripping John Harvard's toe with my hands and yelling, "cheese". "Guys," I felt like calling, "Do you remember me? I was your age a short while back. Let me come with you." Luckily, a friend tapped me on the shoulder just then, freeing me from the grips of nostalgia. It was time to leave. I looked at the small boy in front of me, clad entirely in Giants paraphernalia. "I like your jacket," I said, giving him a "thumbs up." And I left.
Later, I got to thinking about my strange reaction to this seemingly unimportant scene. It slowly began to occur to me why I was struck by these children: they are so rare to see these days. We college students are swallowed for four years into a Generation X black hole. We don't see anyone younger or anyone older; not an old man or a small child. We are stuck in an unending rerun of the "Breakfast Club." Every once in a while I need out.
Sure, we have our professors from time to time, and the occasional north of 30 encounter with other members of the University community, but these are few and far between. We eat, sleep, study, party, do laundry, go shopping and watch sporting events all with members of our own narrow age group. In short, we are left feeling neither young nor old, but "X." I miss living with adults and going to school with kids; I miss seeing my age every day on the faces of others.
For me, although I didn't notice it until that March afternoon, crossing the Yard is the only saving grace. There, beneath the watchful gaze of the man who is not John Harvard, all the non-Xers gather, taking pictures, listening to tour guides and generally passing through our little universe, knowing that they will soon leave it behind. Every so often, I think I'll follow them. But, alas, Expos paper due tomorrow.
Eric M. Nelson's column appears on alternate Mondays.