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In love I trust

<h6>Abby Lu / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Abby Lu / The Daily Princetonian

In a small candle shop near an entrance to a Hong Kong subway station, a middle-aged gentleman spoke to me about astrology and life’s dreams. I kid you not. This random store owner asked, out of nowhere, if I was a Pisces. I am. “Love comes slowly, and life’s dreams could be within reach,” he assured me; I added this memory to my cache of interesting encounters. In rented studio spaces, I played card games with local college students whom I’d only met a few times. I sampled countless 1980s Cantopop albums on my late night taxi trips back home. I can imagine my memories of summer strung together by the countless hands of those I briefly crossed paths with — like dried persimmon that hang in markets.

I was a wanderer of my city, a crow dashing through the tangle of streetlights, buildings, and neon glows in search of … what, exactly? I found comfort in my perpetual motion and the knowledge I never truly had to settle. My walks around the city were a source of constant, stimulating changes of scenery. I would wave to a stall owner as I walked by her soymilk store and pet the cat in the fishing temple. I was at peace with the fact that I might never cross paths with them again. Belonging would come easy no matter where I went, so I was content with goodbyes. Human connections are just brief explosions of light on a revolving lantern whose beauty lies in its transience.

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Just like that, the summer gave way to Princeton, a future that, for months, had seemed like simply a distant prospect.

Being a first-year is daunting. Faced with the plethora of choices at Princeton, I no longer saw a clear path through the stoic matrix of bodies, books, and gatherings. The moving scenery I always found comfort in started spinning uncontrollably, and I found nothing resembling the peace at the eye of the storm. The monotony and transience that carried me through years of high school had fallen apart, and I found myself desperately trying to reassemble it from a scatter of clogs, bolts, and scrap metal on the floor.

The basement of Holder Hall is an interesting place at midnight. The fluorescent glow and string of door frames down its corridors combine to create a liminal space where time is suspended. Where is the laundry room, the study room rumored to be blessed with air-conditioning, but most importantly, the exit? I often found myself utterly lost.

I spent the unstructured first weeks of orientation looking forward to my classes and the semblance of structure they might entail. Yet with every commitment I added to my schedule, sprinting from classes to sports to clubs to Firestone Library, to Chancellor Green to Frist Campus Center to my room to Holder basement, I felt increasingly lost and lonely. Every warm smile I received induced a rush of happiness, yet these brief moments compounded passionately, revoltingly, over time into nothing.

I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to 80s Cantopop during runs to Firestone. As I listened to “Happy are Those in Love,” by Shirley Kwan, scenes of lovers holding hands and running against the wind came to mind. Shrouded by fog under the moonlight, I felt the exhilaration of the characters connecting with one another, as I, in contrast, rushed by the people I passed on my way, never slowing down to examine their faces. More than the romance depicted in the song, I craved the kind of connection that would make me want to stay up talking all night, the kind that would make my heart ache, the kind that would make me want to hop on midnight train rides to New York to do  nothing more than stroll the streets and talk.

Transience is a truth in life I accepted long ago: I was content with my goodbyes, parting gently and inconsequentially with the people who had entered gently and inconsequentially into my life. Relationships were like clouds floating by, and I had accepted the impossibility of grasping onto this mist. Yet, suddenly, I didn’t want these moments to just pass by anymore. I wanted to feel the sentimentality exalted in the song and to one day be able to claim these thoughts as my own.

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I’m slowly learning to hold every small interaction at Princeton close to my heart. I appreciate the person who spoke to me about film on a couch at 48 University Place, my conversation partners down in the Holder basement during the wee hours of the night, the angel who brought cookies to Frist for me, and the ones who give warm, all-encompassing hugs that just make me melt.

I’ve finally allowed myself to feel the paralyzing dread that shoots down my spine every so often when I am faced with a room full of strangers; the profound loneliness in realizing that as an international student, I am a lonesome leaf drifting down the stream; the serenity of haunting the architecture building like a ghost. I’ve also become more attuned to the beauties and joys around me. There’s a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”: “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Now, I live for the sensational thrill of human connection — that first moment I dared to sway to the music in the Dillon Gymnasium Multi-Purpose Room, or sit down at a table in Frist with people I’ve crossed paths with only a few times before.

In allowing myself to feel, I’ve dared to move beyond the simple “hello” stage with my interactions. I imagine every moment split into a million stop-motion frames, and I am just now stepping into each individual frame, appreciating them as masterpieces in their own right instead of faceless building blocks of an empty memory. Transience may be a truth in life, but I must also feel the moment, so when parting does come, it will be consequential. For once, I am starting to embrace heartaches, because those, too, will pass and splash color in the painting of my life.

I find myself forever craving new feelings and searching for new colors. The man in the candle shop was right. Thinking back, that conversation with him was a result of my courage to interact with a world that otherwise would have been a stagnant picture, just a scene in my life where I pass by a candle store. Yet he was the muse I never knew I needed, a lighthouse whose call I heeded when I didn’t even realize I was lost. By taking the time to slow down, I opened myself up to a serendipitous salvation.

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Love comes slowly — and when it does, I’ll be ready.

Abby Yuexi Lu is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince,’ from Hong Kong. She can be reached at al8944@princeton.edu, or on instagram @abbyaintgotabs.

Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect@dailyprincetonian.com.

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