These push-and-pull days feel like tidal waves: when one task leaves another comes, straddled gallantly atop an endless to-do list of invigorating tasks diluted, unfortunately, to something common. When there are so many things to do, and to do well, it’s easy for the most interesting things to become yet another chore.
Easy, but melancholy. I’d hate for these incredible four years to go to waste. And so I do what I can to punctuate my life with moments that ground me: conversations or tasks or movements that remind me how lucky I am to be where I am, but that this fortune should never come at the cost of what makes me human.
I. The Orange Apron
After a summer of clearing churrasco and championing financial independence, I decided, upon my arrival at Princeton, to join the ranks of the Dining Hall staff. Once a week I don a notoriously orange apron and spend three hours re-stocking the cafeteria that feeds up to 900 mouths a night. Twice I’ve worked in the dishwashing room, where the industrial dishwashing machine swallows and spits plates and cutlery at a pace that I, a newcomer, have never been able to keep up with.
At times I enter my three hour shift with a niggling sense of doom: here, where time is a commodity, the idea of spending three entire hours shifting plates and pans seems like a call for impending overload of work. Time spent waiting for plates to be cleaned is often tinged with anxiety.
Yet I end each shift with a welcome calm that I can’t fully achieve elsewhere. There is contentment to be found in little things, which eventually amount to a lot: greeting friends who have come to dinner and laughing with them in the middle of work; sharing conversation with my colleagues over heavy crates of cups; entering the underground corridors of industrial fridges and freezers where no other students really go, or getting half my daily step count and feeling a well-deserved sense of exhaustion post-work.
The best part? For three hours I’m no longer accountable to piles of work. I’m just another cog in a machine, eager to be helpful somehow.
II. Dinner Conversations
The beauty of living in a closed campus is the access you have to everyone. It is no secret that all humans need to eat — and hardworking students more so. Over the past couple of days, I’ve attempted to schedule lunches and dinners with people who I want to get to know and enjoy spending time with.
Last Friday I had dinner with Camila, a wonderful individual with whom I shared a room back at Bridge Year orientation and whose nine months in India I was very eager to hear about. For almost two hours we talked about the things that went very right and very wrong on our respective years, our mutual difficulty in answering the question ‘Where are you from?’, and various other social and identity issues that had been bubbling within me since my arrival at Princeton.
Suffice to say, it was an incredibly refreshing experience — and a meal I’ll never forget.
For a long time I thought I was forever destined to be a dad dancer and only a dad dancer. In other words, that person who pulls the embarrassing moves at clubs and parties. Well, here at Princeton I have found that this, thankfully, will not be the case: after a year of joking around with Asia about joining Raqs, Princeton’s belly dance troupe, I can now proudly say that I have, indeed, done so.
Suffice to say, this is a different experience: I’ve never identified myself as a ‘dancer’. Yet whenever I’m at a rehearsal with a group of girls who are as unique as they are talented, I feel like I am capable of being anyone I want to be. As someone who has struggled — and is currently struggling — with body image, I find it empowering to see myself in a mirror and observe myself in harmony with my own body and those of others.
After watching a yellow-skirted, red-shoed dancer doing the lindy hop this summer, I realized that all bodies are extraordinarily beautiful when in movement. The specific aesthetic of one’s physicality no longer matters when the capacity to harmonize takes center stage.
V. Here, in the Hamilton Courtyard
I cannot end this post without mention of where I began: seated on an inclined deck chair positioned haphazardly in the center of Rockefeller’s Hamilton Courtyard, the sun illuminating each individual dust mote on my neglected laptop screen. The fall cold is chilly on my bare fingers and toes, but the brightness of day — and the prospect of lunch — is warming enough.
This was a moment I never anticipated would be a part of my day. After several hours spent watching video lectures, however, I decided to take advantage of the noontime sun and the green spaces that make Princeton so exquisite.
There is room for spontaneity here, after all; it is waiting, longingly, to be filled, and all one needs to do is find it.
And when one does, the result is sweet: like the green of a sprawling lawn against the blue October sky, idling lazily up above.