Spring is coming to Oberlin. Interspersed between the 34-and-clear-days and the 45-and-raining-days are 55-to-60-and-sunny-days, with a light breeze. Purple crocuses and snowdrops are starting to show their heads, and fuzzy buds on trees are warming up to open and flower in the next month or so. Walking around and feeling the spring air, the sun on my skin, and the warmer temperatures has been transporting me in a pretty visceral way back to Berlin, where I was last March. Even though I was several thousand miles away in a different country, the weather could be remarkably similar in Berlin and Oberlin, something my on-campus friends and I talked about when I was abroad. What’s so poignant about it all is that the weather in Berlin only really warmed up during the last weekend I was there, right before I had to fly home in the wake of the emerging pandemic. We’re approaching mid-March, which means we’re approaching the one-year mark of this crisis, a significant anniversary I think has been on everyone’s mind, regardless of where they were when it all happened. When I feel this weather, I am reminded of the passage of time, and of where I was when this all began, and boy, it makes me wistful.
Spring has always made me nostalgic. Last year when I was at home after leaving Germany, I experienced a New Mexico springtime for the first time since entering college. It was more beautiful than I remembered New Mexico spring being, but was also less glorious than an Oberlin spring, where after months of mud, puddles, and the sporadic yet irritatingly persistent snowstorms, things finally decide to stay warm and the entire town is filled with flowers. During my first ever spring in Oberlin I was taking a class in the English department, Arthurian Fictions. There was a lot of epic love poetry about knights and court ladies, and a lot of “woe is me, it’s springtime and everyone wants to fall in love.” As melodramatic as some of the poetry was, I had to begrudgingly admit to myself that a spring in Oberlin made me want to fall in love too. There’s just something about the sudden burst of life, and the sheer beauty of it all, that fills me with a nostalgia and a longing for both the past and the future.
This is my first spring in Oberlin since my sophomore year. Although it hasn’t quite arrived yet, the significance of the visible and encompassing signs of spring’s emergence aren’t lost on me. For one thing, the nicer weather makes me want to spend more time outside! While this isn’t a good thing for my productivity and getting homework done, it is a good thing socially. When it was colder and snowier, it was a lot more challenging to spend time with friends outside. Last semester being outside with friends was something I did a lot, since it was one of the only options for safe socializing. But mostly, I’ve been thinking a lot about the passage of time, twofold. On the one hand, I’m thinking about how a year has passed since the pandemic began. The further away from it I am, the more incomprehensible it seems to me that just a year ago I was in Berlin, traipsing around a crowded city unmasked, getting on packed trains, going to bars, concerts, dance classes, and eating in restaurants. It just doesn’t feel real. On the other side of things, I am reminded that I’m almost at the midpoint of this semester, my final semester. It’s been easy, for better or for worse, to get into a sort of status-quo, normal flow of things (status-flow, perhaps?). I go to my Zoom classes. I send people google calendar invites. I leave the house to get to dining halls to use my daily meal swipe. I go on masked walks with my friends, and I go on walks alone and call my family. Things have a rhythm. It’s the “new normal.” It’s become so normal in fact, that I have a hard time comprehending how things are actually getting better and that there might be an “end” in sight in the distant future. As hopeful as that all is, it can be hard to remember sometimes. The sudden change in weather has me thinking about where I was a year ago, how my time here is almost up, and where I want to be in the future. I’m forced to reckon with the passage of time. It’s not bad, just different. Just is.
I didn’t mean for this to be as existential as it has become, and as I’m writing this, I’m really not sure what the punchline is. I’ve just been reflecting a lot about the past year, which sometimes feels like a glitch in the matrix, the classic Trekkian time-space anomaly hidden in a mysterious nebula. What doesn’t feel like a glitch is that spring is coming, we’re pruning blackberry canes, and that every time it’s sunny, it feels like a special treat. Navigating the stress of my midterm exams and assignments feels both all-consuming and entirely superfluous, as I try to finish the year strong while also filling all the items on my (somewhat abridged) bucket list and connecting with the people who mean the most to me at Oberlin. What I do know, is that I hope this spring, when it arrives in earnest, can be a rebirth, and I mean that in the cheesiest, Pagan-ritualistic, Renaissance-poetry way possible. I know that when spring comes, nothing will really change in an immediate way. And while spring does signal new beginnings, it will also, for me, signal the beginning of the end, a phrase I used verbatim in a journal entry right before I left Berlin, when everything felt so very apocalyptic. Existing in this node of time, a confluence of endings and beginnings, feels so strange. I don’t really know what to do about it, or what I will do. Taking things a day at a time at Oberlin feels simultaneously impossible and necessary. This year, I’ve gotten a little better at existing in the moment. And yet with the one-year mark approaching, I feel somehow present at every time and in every place at once.