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On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, I briefly found myself alone in my common room, admiring the bright moon from the window. With my half-eaten mooncake and cool glass of grapefruit soda, I didn’t feel lonely at all. It was oddly poetic, almost like a verse from Li Bai’s poems — “facing my shadow, together we make three.”
In my brief 19 years of living, I’ve noticed that there is such a deep-seated fear of appearing alone in public. This is perhaps even more present on college campuses such as ours: eating in dining halls, walking to classes, attending any sort of social events. No one wants to be seen by themselves. Being alone during your first few days on campus is sometimes unavoidable, but after that, you can’t help feeling a bit like a loser if you still don’t have company.
It’s completely understandable. After my freshman year on Zoom, being on a campus full of life and people has been amazing so far. There are no two ways about it — the opportunities to finally socialize with people and forge genuine connections have kept my spirits high.
Perhaps I am finally getting the genuine college student experience that makes American higher education so alluring: to be afforded the privilege of making as many communities as I want, as big or small as I want them, and to never feel truly alone as I enter a new stage of my life. Yet, I find myself wanting to spend more time with myself — alone — amidst all that is happening.
This desire is more than me being an introvert, my social battery running low, or just needing time away from people to recharge. My selective solitude feels a bit more positive: a desire to define my own company not in the absence of others but in the fullness of just myself.
I hope this does not come off as narcissistic or me thinking I’m too good to be around others: I love being on campus surrounded by people. The light breeze of joy I feel when walking through the Yard filled with people is simply unmatched. The opportunities to interact with and learn from my peers and professors have, by far, been one of the most valuable things Harvard has given me thus far. Well, apart from the prime real estate location my dorm is in. Or my financial aid. Or the dining hall ice-cream machines — anyhow, you get the point.
Nonetheless, there is something so deeply satisfying about exploring campus and the surrounding areas, or even this new stage of life, all by myself. Just like how much I’ve loved getting to know my peers, I also want to know myself a little more and a little better as I navigate this new environment and stage in life. Like tracking the phases of the moon, I want to see my own changes.
I take myself out for a coffee chat, for a nice meal, for a solo movie viewing experience. I give myself the same time of day and quality time I am willing to give others. The walk by the Charles doesn’t become any less refreshing just because I am walking by myself. The dining hall doesn’t become more foreign or intimidating when I am alone.
We are not somehow weaker when we are only in our own presence.
“Community” has become a buzzword on Harvard’s campus — we’ve seen it in countless emails, we’ve heard it in speeches and brief pitches for extracurricular activities. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with valuing communities and actively building them. But the community starts from the individual. Without ourselves, we are nothing. The world is confusing and constantly changing, so maybe I can’t ever understand the world if I don’t begin by understanding myself.
But I am constantly changing, too. And you probably are, too.
The sheer number of students at Harvard and the College’s formal emphasis on community on campus constantly remind us that we are never alone.
But sometimes, we just are alone — and there’s nothing wrong with being alone. This autumn, while the weather is still nice and the moon is still bright, go be your own best companion.
Ruby Huang ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Leverett House.
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