Oberlin Blogs

Aggressively Matter-of-Fact

May 23, 2019

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

As is my custom now, at the end of a semester, I often find myself in an airport or a plane or, occasionally, my dining room table, writing some nice reflective blog post that wraps up my semester and ties it with a reasonably neat bow. I usually have an idea about what I want to write about before I write it.

This time around, though, I find myself coming up somewhat blank, which might be odd considering I’ve now reached the halfway point of my college career. What follows is a less positive and triumphant, but equally introspective and meandering, train-of-thought post about the nature of the change and passage of time and things of that sort. 

To start: I thought I would be more emotional about being halfway through college: more anxious, or more excited, or having lots of small existential crises and that sort of thing. But I find myself just feeling sort of “ok” and at-peace with it, which I super did not expect. During finals week, I found myself feeling that now-familiar sensation of focusing so intensely on finals and moving and traveling that I had no time to process anything about the year, and emerged four days later sitting on an airplane, having written four decent papers, moved an entire room into a storage unit, and said goodbye to as many friends as I could manage.

Sitting on a plane for five hours didn’t seem odd at all or even that long a flight, and although I journaled about the different landscapes of the Midwest and the Southwest (a very introspective activity), I didn’t feel particularly excited about going home or sad about leaving Oberlin. All in all, my whole end of semester has felt aggressively matter-of-fact. 

Even the goodbyes this semester felt matter-of-fact. Even though some of them should have felt harder, because a lot of my friends are going abroad, and I probably am too—meaning we might not see each other for a lot longer than 3 months—I didn’t find myself being as upset by the goodbyes as I expected. I am lucky enough that I will be able to visit some of my friends this summer, which definitely contributes to those goodbyes being easier.

But I think another part of it is that I’m used to goodbyes now. I’m used to transience and traveling and not seeing people for a few months.

When I finished my first year at Oberlin, I hadn’t gone without my newfound friends and communities for more than five or six weeks—now I had to go three months, and I didn’t know how I would handle it. But now I know that I can handle distance, because I’ve done it before.

It reminds me of the exposure therapy I learned about in my clinical psychology class this past semester: if you expose a patient to something that is anxiety-inducing, and nothing terrible happens, you help them realize that nothing catastrophic is at stake, and the thing that once caused so much anxiety and distress loses its power. That’s how going away feels now. I don’t mind airports anymore, and I’m getting better at goodbyes, because they’re just a part of my life. 

The night before I left Oberlin, I had a long conversation with fellow blogger, Teague, who I am now lucky enough to consider a friend. We both commented on how the biggest things are often the most anticlimactic (Teague wrote a really good blog post to this effect). I certainly felt this way at the end of this semester. Being halfway through college is a big deal, and because of this, as I reached the end of my semester, I found myself trying so hard to savor special Oberlin moments before I left, because, after all, I only have three semesters left there (assuming one is spent abroad). Oberlin is a special place. And there are many special moments. But they are never what, or when, you expect them to be (Teague also talked about this in his post). 

The Monday of reading period, I went to a film screening of student films from CINE 298, the video production class. One of my friends from Tank had a short film showing, and I wanted to support her. I’m really glad I did because I saw some really interesting student work. I am constantly impressed by the things Oberlin students do and create, and I was also pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of people I knew who were in that class.

The degrees of separation at Oberlin feel smaller and smaller each semester, which I like and don’t like at the same time. It certainly makes goodbyes more and more ambitious: I'm at the point where I literally cannot say goodbye to all the people I might want to purely for logistic reasons. But I digress: One of the films at the screening was about connections, the passage of time, and how small a radius a life at Oberlin involves. I particularly liked one phrase which really epitomizes my Oberlin experience so far: “What is a line if not all of its dots connected?” All these little moments make up one long line, one whole narration, one approximately cohesive film connected by several distinct and shorter shots, each one different and more-or-less appealing or aesthetically pleasing its own, unique way.  

I guess at this point, I actually feel ready, if that’s even possible at any point in anyone’s lifetime. And I feel like I am where I should be. Being a third-year feels almost entirely right (and only the smallest bit odd at this juncture). The future feels very large and uncertain—and exciting.

But for the first time, that uncertainty doesn’t scare me as much. Obviously, I still worry about the future, and what will happen, and things are still very scary, but I suppose my exposure to uncertainty and change and the liminality of college (is it even a post by an Oberlin student if the word liminality doesn’t show up at least once?) makes things easier. Everything feels like it’s where it should be, and it feels like it’s going as fast as it should be, too. 

I’ll end this blog post with a journal entry that I actually wrote at the end of my sophomore fall semester. It’s old, but it still applies:

“Being in the airport is always odd because liminal spaces are weird, but I like that my transitory-ness is shared with everyone else around me. We’re all leaving, going, departing, arriving, not living in any one place but still being physically present in one moment. It’s a strange compromise between liminality and physicality. I like being in airports because they are something I know how to do and I feel like a capable adult person. I also like them because generally, the way my life is now, being in an airport means I am on my way to someone I love. Nothing that is about to happen feels quite real, the way traveling days often feel. But somehow I will find myself there and going somewhere and being in a different there because despite our wishes, time always finds a way to pass.” 

Enjoy your summer, everyone. 

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