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Why We Can’t Look Back and Laugh

By Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport
Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Greenough Hall.

In the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas tells his men during a time of hardship, “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit,” which idiomatically translates to, “Maybe we’ll be laughing about even these things in the future.” It is a reminder that even the worst of circumstances eventually come to an end, that humanity can and will persevere through even the most severe destruction. It is a rallying cry in a time of extreme darkness.

I love Virgil, but I’ve always found that line to be complete bullshit. Who wants to look back on the worst moments of your life fondly?

For many of us, one of those worst moments — the ones that simultaneously turn the world upside down and provide clarity about what matters most — happened on March 10, when we woke up to emails from University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana asking undergraduates to leave campus within five days. I’ll forever remember that moment, when I really, truly realized how much I loved my new home just when I realized I had to leave it.

In 1977, former Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III commented, “Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world.” Forty-three years later, we woke up one morning expecting to study for midterms and went to sleep with our rooms in complete disarray, our lives forever altered. In the blink of an eye, we found ourselves at the end of our world as we knew it with no time to prepare, no time to process.

I miss my friends. I miss my professors.

I miss everything that makes Harvard the place I now call home. I miss the way the sunlight bounces off the couches in the Barker Cafe on a Friday morning. I miss the walk across the John Weeks Bridge at sunset, or sunrise, or really any time of day or night. I miss the silence of the Widener and Langdell reading rooms, a silence that represents an awe-inspiring search for profound intellectual discovery.

This is no blessing in disguise. This is nothing but a loss.

If Virgil’s words could ever ring true, now would be a nice time.

But I’m also not sure I want Virgil to be right. Because realizing what you’re losing is sometimes the easiest way to realize what you’ve already got. Because that horrible, all-encompassing feeling of lacking is an indication of how much you’ve been given. Because being without makes you appreciate every moment you have.

Because forever remembering how hard you sobbed when it all came to an end on that fateful day in March will ensure that you never again wish a moment at Harvard away.

When I consider skipping a lecture one day in the future, I want to remember what it felt like to realize I wouldn’t be walking to lecture at all. When I complain about the amount of work I have piling up, I want to remember what it felt like to wish for nothing more than to be able to walk into the stacks of Widener and check out a book for a research paper.

When we go back, I hope we live every day at Harvard like we’re about to wake up to an email asking us to leave campus. I hope we live every day at Harvard like it’s our last not because we live in fear of March 10, 2020 all over again, but because that day taught us a hard lesson about the magic that surrounds us in Cambridge.

What will define how this community, broken by circumstance, comes back together is not what has happened but how we shape what is to come with the decisions we make today and tomorrow. How we repair all that we’ve lost. Whether we make the most of the time we have left at Harvard. Because there’s just so much left to do, to discover, to experience. Because four years at Harvard wasn’t enough to begin with.

I don’t think I’ll ever be laughing about all of this, but I can’t wait to feel whatever I feel when “indefinitely” finally comes to a long-awaited end and an email tells us that we can come back home. I’m holding onto a feeling that I haven’t even felt yet, for I already know that it will be like no other.

Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Greenough Hall.

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