By SOPHIA DENG
“Look.” My friend stood transfixed in front of a hallway, beckoning me to come forward.
I peered cautiously into the darkness, spooked by the flickering red light that emanated from an Exit sign that seemed to hover in the air. The silence in the air was chilling. I took a few steps forward to get a closer look.
I was about to turn away when something clamped down on my shoulders.
I swore loudly, releasing a chain of the choicest expletives as I whirled around to glare at my assailant. My friend laughed and dodged as I swung my bag at him like a fly swatter. A dull slapping sound echoed across the room, and I started laughing too. I didn’t know why. My cramped toes hurt like hell, it was nearly 1:00 a.m. and I had just gotten the biggest scare of my life, but feeling like I didn’t have a care in the world was pure bliss.
There we were, just a couple of 18-year-old college students who, on a spontaneous whim, snuck into the Human Ecology building without card access, but I felt like we were characters from one of those classic exploration stories: kids who broke some sort of protocol set by silly adults — really, did they think we wouldn’t find a way around those rules? — to explore some rooms that were off-limits. We snickered at each other’s misfortunes as we stupidly pushed at doors to open them when we should have pulled, got excited by the first unlocked entrance on a floor (which only turned out to lead to the girl’s bathroom) and panicked at the sight of eerily realistic mannequins that loomed abruptly at odd corners.
Mentally, I wasn’t at Cornell University anymore. Forget about the stress, the grades, the prelims. I marveled at this change in attitude because I was that person who always claimed she had no time to go out, or she had this to do or that thing to polish up. And I certainly wouldn’t have decided to take a detour on the way home to explore a place I’d never been to on a late Tuesday night. You have responsibilities, a little voice would snidely whisper in my head. There are other priorities.
“Grown ups are like that…”
This attitude was tightening its grip on me like a vise. It caused the fire and spirit I had initially to sputter pathetically because I was denying myself these small opportunities to nourish what was really important in the grand scheme of things: a happy mind. Every little thing that went wrong became discouraging to an unhealthy extent and, even worse, I had no distractions that allowed me to see how much blame I placed on myself. I was avoiding the outlets that allowed me to lift that burden by simply letting go for a short while.
I know I’m not the only one affected by this stifling sense of obligation. It’s like quicksand: easy to get stuck in, hard to claw out of. We remain unaware of it until we disconnect from these environments where stress runs rampant. But it’s difficult to do that because all of us have expectations to meet and new standards to create and jobs to compete for. When was the last time we allowed ourselves to be filled with child-like excitement with no shame attached? When was the last time we found joy in an activity we would now consider trivial? It’s impossible to maintain such a carefree attitude all the time, but I urge us all to take a few moments to unplug. It makes all the difference.
My friend gave me much more than a scare. It was an electrolysis, separating me from a debilitating attitude I so closely identified with that it became almost inseparable. It was a brief moment of clarity, but that was all I needed.
Sophia is a freshman majoring in Computer Science. Her favorite things include her sketchpad, grapes and Facebook Pusheen stickers. She may seem quiet upon first impression, but beware of her random laughing fits once you get to know her. Occasionally, she can be found outside the library. Her posts appear on alternate Fridays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.