Upon arriving at Boston Logan International Airport in the August before my freshman year, I couldn’t help but have one intense observation over and over again: Boston is most definitely not Birmingham.
Between the number of people roaming through the airport, the seemingly endless underground tunnels for cars, the marked presence of public transportation, and, of course, the bay, what struck me about the city was not to so much what was moving, but how quickly it moved. Time seemed to contract in on itself and double over, as though the sun had had one too many espresso shots and was desperately trying to meet some looming, cosmic deadline.
In the comfort of soft, Southern sunrises and evenings punctuated by fireflies and calls for dinner, I’d never thought to consider time as a resource, especially not one that I was in any danger of running out of. In fact, if Alabama is the “Heart of Dixie,” its veins are saturated with that very sense of unquestioned ease. The drawn-out vowels of the Southern accent only echo this certainty.
For better or worse, I can’t help but see time as a friend who has been with me since my days in Alabama elementary school, when recess alone seemed to last a million years and adulthood seemed at least three times as many away. It’s a mentality that I can’t seem to shake. On one hand, I’ve probably missed out on more than a few comps that I could have completed and probably confused a photodiode for a solar cell. On the other hand, I have found a way to make myself feel consistently happy. Of course, the conditions for my happiness are unique to my circumstances, but I think that changing the way we look at time can lead to a more universal sense of peace. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing distractions for what they are, but distractions can be as much of a stepping-stone as they can a road-block, since they allow for introspection and, more importantly, a break.
Harvard students could benefit from finding a sense of personal peace to replace the sense of certain doom that otherwise prevails. The combination of an admissions rate that only lowers from year to year and competition among students who somehow manage to beat these odds can foster remarkable ingenuity, but it can also foster the unhealthy sense that every moment counts, as though an invisible timer is keeping track of every wasted second.
Throughout the course of my freshman year, my lack of such an internal clock became an object of fascination among my friends. “How do you just do that?” my friends would ask, incredulous at some impulsive decision of mine, whether it was rock-climbing before dinner or flying to Iceland before finals. Though the syntax varied, the point remained constant: “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your time?”
In truth, they had a point. More than once, I examined my nonchalance with disdain as I watched my friends artfully leverage the time they had so carefully not wasted for personal and professional dividends. However, every time that I faced another extra opportunity to be “productive,” it’d slip away without much thought as I opted for a sunny afternoon by the river or a three-hour conversation detailing the intricacies of chocolate, life, and James Joyce when I was supposed to be studying for a biology midterm.
Whenever things seemed to fall apart, though, it was this very freedom that suddenly felt more like stability. In the intersection of staying slow and keeping steady, I’d found a sort of armor that protected me from Harvard’s intensity when it would grow dangerously high. Navigating Harvard’s many deadlines and expectations would have been nearly impossible without this assurance.
In allowing myself to slow down, I have found a steadiness that carries me from one hardship to the next, and it’s a steadiness I learned to look for in days spent on rope-swings by the creek. I’m not saying that everybody’s peace waits at the bottom of a pitcher of sweet tea or a front porch, but I think we owe it to ourselves to take a second just to look, to see if we can find a little taste of Birmingham in Boston. Luke Bryan said it himself: “Slow it down, soak it in.” We’ve got to do what we can to try to make the good times last.
Anastasia Sorochinsky ’21 lives in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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