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Last semester I lived in Mather House, which was big and lonely and kind of like a ghost town. I would walk up the six flights of stairs up to my dorm and startle in surprise at the tapping of other footsteps above me — idiosyncratic evidence that there were actually other people living there too. When I glanced down into the courtyard from my common room windows, there would only be a smattering of students scattered about below, like stray dust mites someone above had forgotten to brush away. Every time I ended up in the courtyard, I would look skywards toward the concrete block tower with only a handful of windows lit up, feeling like the protagonist of a post-apocalyptic movie surveying the remnants of human civilization.
So I left Mather, and often. Given how Harvard Yard (specifically the steps of Widener Library) became the social center for freshmen living on campus, and how most of the friends I made happened to live somewhere reasonably close to the Yard, three or four times every week (sometimes more, if I had forgotten my laptop), I geared up to make the eight-minute trek from my dorm to the Yard.
Harvard students love to complain about distance. The Quad is so far away it might as well be its own postal code. I only liked Thayer because it was so close to the Science Center. This class is so far away, I don’t even want to go. It’s all about location, location, location here, and closer is always better.
There are a lot of reasons I could’ve or should’ve hated the walk from Mather House to the Yard. It was thoroughly inconvenient and inefficient. As soon as I learned something was happening, I was already 10 minutes late. The winter night temperatures chilled my sensitive Californian constitution. There was this bit of street in the last stretch that was really confusing for pedestrians, and every time I crossed I prayed a car didn’t end me there.
But despite all these very fair reasons I shouldn’t have, I loved the walk. I bundled up in a hat and gloves, listened to music, and just gave myself time to think as muscle memory carried me to the place I had been so many times before. Granted, my thoughts often took the form of “why am I doing this.” But that was also my most important thought.
I think it’s a testament to how much you love other people that you would walk (eight minutes during a cold winter night) to visit them.
I think of the line in “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s, the anthem of long-distance relationships, that goes, “A thousand miles seems pretty far / But they’ve got planes and trains and cars / I’d walk to you if I had no other way.”
I think of the chorus of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers: “But I would walk five hundred miles / And I would walk five hundred more / Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles / To fall down at your door.”
I think of the people I would walk to, no matter the distance, just to be together with them in the flesh, physically tangible, breathing the same air. How, at the end of the world, if all the trains and buses and planes in the world shut down and there was no easy way to reach anyone, I would run to see some people for the last time. To hold their hands and look at them in the eyes as we say goodbye.
I also think of how easy it is to let these minuscule things of eight-minute walks and bad weather split us apart from the people we so cherish. In New York City, or so I’ve been told, couples break up because their places are on different lines on the subway and they can’t spare the extra 10 minutes of transit time. At Harvard, people would definitely visit their quadded friends, if only the Quad wasn’t so far away. We fall out of each other’s lives with the littlest bit of effort, and sometimes none at all.
For all my Mather House to the Yard walks last semester, I am equally guilty of letting relationships fizzle out due to perceived distance. I should practice what I preach. If I love you, I would walk to you, wherever you are, however long it takes. There are only so many hours in a day, but I love sharing space with you more than I fear the lost time. So let me put on my gloves, and I’ll get going.
Christina M. Xiao ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.
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