I have never felt as young as I did last week, at 21, sitting behind my baba in a hospital room as a nurse explained some pre- and post-op procedures that he’d have to undergo. Baba kept repeating the same lines he had been for the past few days: I don’t have high blood pressure, I don’t have diabetes or high cholesterol, I exercise, I eat well. Why is this happening to me?
Everything the nurse said that day came with sporadic yet pregnant glances in my direction. Baba was genetically predisposed for these heart problems, so chances are I’ve inherited them too, just as I did his big eyes and perpetual nervousness. The subtext was deafening: Beware! You, too, will reckon with this someday. Sooner than you think.
When you’re deluded and in college (and the two are nearly always concurrent) you easily forget that not everyone is as young as you. And who could blame you? Real life exists so far away from the Hill. There’s not much in a foam party on a frat house lawn or the nightly tangle of exhausted bodies waiting on the grass outside Dos Amigos that screams mortality. There’s no hurry. We’re so young. Time is nothing.
That’s what’s incredible about the whole Cornell experiment: Put a bunch of predominantly privileged kids up in an incubator on a hill where time is distorted and youth is forever. College feels at once too long and too short. It’s endless when it’s August and you take a peek at the last page on the syllabus. It’s eternal when you’re in the burrito line at Terrace but you have to get to a 12:20 class. College could be no shorter than forever when you’re on page three of a ten-page paper at 1:57 a.m. and you accept defeat, packing up your things to make the famous, treacherous pilgrimage from Olin to Uris.
Yet all that time is compressed into a flash of light when you walk across Thurston Bridge and take an extra half-second to look — really look — at Triphammer Falls. College feels like a single fleeting moment when it’s midnight in the parking lot of Taco Bell and you and four friends are arguing over what to do with the crunch wraps that they gave you with meat by mistake. When you make the drive to the E.R. at Cayuga Med. It feels like the end of time once you print that ten-page essay. When the professor says, finally, “Thank you.” When the lecture hall applauds.
If it is, as Joan Didion famously wrote, easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends, then it is nearly impossible to see anything that happens in between. I know exactly when college began for me, and I know exactly when it will end: in just a few weeks in a sparsely attended, probably smelly and poorly temperature-controlled graduation ceremony in Barton. (Yeah, I’ve seen the Instas from last year, and I’m not impressed!!)
But everything in-between seems to be just flashes of youth, of memories and feelings that don’t fit together in any coherent timeline. This whole thing has been like a long, convoluted dream that I just woke up from. And what a bizarre, lovely, tumultuous dream Cornell has been. We are so young, after all. Time is nothing.
But the foam will eventually fizzle into a mid-day hangover and the taco truck will at some point run out of Chicki Minaj. Somewhere along the way things got serious, scary. At some point conversations on afternoon runs with a friend turned to advising each other on what to do to help friends who are struggling, who are suffering, who have gone through so much trauma. At some point I was sitting in my car, in the dark, with another friend who told me he was waiting to hear if his dad had cancer. At some point I realized Baba wouldn’t be there forever. I am so young, and everything is growing too big for me, too fast.
Has the world just kept going forward while I’ve been here screwing around? I am leaving Cornell before I had planned, but it seems like the right time. The fog is clearing and the sun has risen. The carnival rides are being packed up. I am at once terrified to wake up, and yet hyper-aware that I’ve already slept through all of my alarms.
No issue. I’m still young. It’s simply time to get up.
Pegah Moradi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. All Jokes Aside runs every other Monday this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.