It’s been a long year. On a personal level, I’ve spent the last eight months adjusting to life a thousand miles away from my family. And it’s a curious feeling, knowing that “home” will never really be home again. It’ll just be temporary housing, kind of like Gate House, but more reputable and constructed a little more solidly. But Colgate is more than its residence halls, and home is more like a state of mind. In my time here, in between diving into coursework and fraternizing with people from around the world, somehow two semesters slipped away from me, and I find myself facing another summer. And while wasting time this weekend on the quad soaking up sun and procrastinating on various final projects, I made an unexpected comparison.
Life – and maybe love – is like getting sunburned. You’re out in the sun. It’s warm. It feels good. Your skin is soaking up vitamin D. You’re lucky enough that the skies are clear that day and the choice is made to be exposed to the ultraviolet light. Maybe you were trying to be careful and used sunscreen and wore a hat. Maybe you didn’t bother with any kind of defenses. Maybe it felt good. Maybe you lost track of time. Maybe you were trapped by circumstances and just couldn’t get inside. Regardless, at some point, you ended up getting burned.
So you do what you can. You use some aloe vera and drink water to re-hydrate. Movements will be more careful, depending on the severity of the burn. Maybe you’ll stay out of the sun. Or maybe you’ll be more reckless in the wake of the pain. Either way, you have the memory. You know the risk, and you know the consequences.
Eventually though, no matter how red you got, or how painful it was to go about your daily life, or how much it stung, the burn begins to fade.
And eventually, the damage begins to heal.
You’re still marked, though. Your skin tone will be a few tones darker for a while. And while the tan persists, there will be a heightened awareness of how you’ve been altered.
Life is like that, I think. Things happen. We react. We learn. We adapt. We persist. Humanity has a remarkable way of persevering. Our capacity to change maintains us even as we are constantly redefined. The situations we put ourselves in have lasting effects, both positive and negative. Even when tragedy strikes, we are capable of recovering. Not unchanged, not unscathed, but able to continue.
As a campus, we have faced horror close to home this year in the massacre at Virginia Tech. As a nation, Hrant Dink’s murder stands as a reminder that free speech is a privilege not to be taken lightly. On the global scale, the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko raises questions about the future of post-Cold War relations between the G8. Will we remember? Will we learn from the burns? Only time will tell.
In two weeks, the class of 2010 will complete their first year on Colgate’s campus. The seniors will finish their last. One group of students leaves to become the world’s lawyers, bankers, doctors and novelists; another group of students arrives to continue the legacy.
So it goes.