Princeton students, as long as I’ve been a student here, have suffered from the unbearable condition of cancelled plans — plans later decided to be too troublesome or plans never truly intended to be honored. Things invariably come up that make that brunch date inconvenient: a deadline, an all-nighter, snow, a hangover. We carry a plan-cancelling device in our pockets, and an “I’m so sorry!!!!” text almost feels guilt-free. Princeton students need a little Shabbat.
Rachel Linfield ’19 has kept Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath – her whole life, powering down before sunset Friday night and reemerging with a “shavua tov!”, or a good week wish, Saturday after sunset. That’s 24 hours without phones, computers, Netflix, Spotify, and even Dr. Java. That’s 24 hours of human time, alone time, book time, enjoy-the-weather time, look-up-while-walking time. If you plan to meet Rachel for lunch Saturday at noon at RoMa, you’ll be there punctually, and she’ll be there waiting.
At Princeton, the ubiquity of unrealized plans is fodder for the most relatable jokes. “Let’s get a meal sometime” requires as little engagement as “what’s up” — merely a way to sound interested with no intention to exert effort. This is not to say that we don’t love our friends. Instead, we don’t feel the need to actively invest in them.
According to the University website, “nearly all” of us live with our 5,000 closest undergraduate friends on campus for all four years. We share bathrooms. We spend freshman and sophomore years arguing over which of 3.5 dining halls to share a meal in (Forbes only makes it to the bargaining table 50 percent of the time). We live around everyone we know. And sometimes, when the beds don’t unbunk, we live on top of each other too. How could we possibly invest more time in these people?
I think we fail to follow up on plans because there is no sense of urgency. When your sister visits for a weekend, you plan to spend every second entertaining her. But when your roommate comes home, you hope silently that she decides to take out the trash before she leaves again. We love our friends and we appreciate their company, but we take them for granted on a daily basis.
When Rachel describes her Shabbat traditions growing up, she recounts the way her family would huddle around board games, cook together, and walk to a neighbor’s house to socialize more. When I remember my own weekend family time, I picture an instance in which we all happened to be home at the same time — glued to the TV or to the computer or to our phones making other plans. We spent time in parallel while the Linfields spent time engaged with each other.
We live at school, so naturally, we conflate school with life. Adjacent cubicles in Firestone replace coffee dates. Sitting next to each other in ECO100 is evaluated as 50 minutes spent together. We all need a little Shabbat — a time to commit to focusing on one thing at a time. We need to commit to spending time with friends instead of spending time around friends while writing our JPs and catching up on Game of Thrones and running on the treadmill. We need to commit to making plans intentionally. We need to feel comfortable taking a break from work in order to take care of each other, and in doing so, take care of ourselves.
Jessica Nyquist is a junior in computer science from Houston, Tex. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.