By Wednesday morning my microeconomics midterm exam had been postponed just before it was scheduled to start, and all I wanted to do was go somewhere to let out all my frustration with this week. I wanted to go to the middle of Poe Field and yell until my vocal cords could produce only silence. I wanted to teleport to my dog at home and just nap while holding onto her. I wanted to take my microeconomics midterm exam as scheduled and just absolutely crush it more than I had ever wanted to take any other exam in my life. I wanted my biggest worries this week to be intertemporal budget constraints and whether the salvation of bears is a normal good just like they had been about a week ago.
I am filled with frustration, and I feel this same frustration all around me in the campus community. I have friends frustrated that their theater performances have been reduced to cancellations. I have friends frustrated by having to decide whether to go home with — up until Wednesday night — little guidance other than a strong suggestion to do so without nuance for all the particular difficulties their lives may present. I have friends frustrated that midterms had mostly been continuing as planned despite everyone’s lives being communally turned upside down.
This frustration is oddly familiar for me though. It is a frustration due to uncertainty and a frustration due to lack of control, and these frustrations seem familiar to me because they have run through much of my life.
The most recent example of these frustrations taking hold in my life is when nearly a year and a half ago I was faced with taking a year-long leave of absence barely more than a month into my first attempt at a freshman year here. I took the leave because, out of the first thirteen days of classes of that fall semester, I spent eight of them in a bed in the infirmary of McCosh Health Center with a peritonsillar abscess restricting my ability to eat, drink, and breath all while causing great pain from my left ear down through my neck.
As I lay in the McCosh bed waiting to recuperate enough to be discharged, as I sat in the Mathey College conference room with Director of Student Life Darleny Cepin breaking down over such a rough start to my time at Princeton, and as I slowly packed up my belongings from Blair Hall 309 so my family could take me back home, I was filled with many of the same feelings I have been feeling and have sensed in others this week.
There’s the frustration I’ve already mentioned, and at times it can feel like it has boiled into anger. There’s the sadness over lost time with friends and lost time on this campus, especially for those for whom it is their last weeks on campus as undergraduate students. There’s the coping laughter at the ridiculousness or surrealness of the situation. There’s the anxiety, and there’s even the sense of emptiness at times when it feels like the world is falling out from under you — when the ground is ever-shifting and you just want a moment of rest.
Much like it is now, a year and a half ago, it was difficult to push through these emotions and find the positive ones. But they are still there.
There’s compassion that emerges from us for each other. There’s excitement at new possibilities that weren’t previously possible — and that may seem impossible right now. There’s the sense of calm when one takes the time to find what’s still pretty alright in life. These things don’t seem like much, and they may be pretty hard to find at the moment — hindsight is a great friend in this case. But they are powerful. They can stop the ground from shifting or falling out from under you, even if only momentarily, and provide that brief moment of rest that lets you prepare for the next thing this crazy, uncertain life might throw at us.
I look back at the first half of this week, and yes, I do indeed see all the issues we’ve had to face. But I also see the amazing performance I was able to watch on Sunday of “A Little Night Music.” I see the wonderful weather that allowed for two dinners outside in the Forbes backyard. I see the striking blue sky on Monday that made all the buildings I walked by that day look even more beautiful than usual, especially the collegiate Gothic masterpieces like Firestone Library and Blair Arch.
And yes, there is indeed something to be said that I have had two attempts at a freshman year at Princeton and neither have gone smoothly. I see humor in that — humor that brightens an otherwise gloomy week. As I write that, all I’m hoping for is that the saying “third time’s the charm” really holds come next fall.