April 29, 2019

LIEBERMAN | Tender Points of Contact

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My senior year of college has been a whole lot of “lasts” that happened without me even realizing them. I slammed down my pencil and released a big sigh as I submitted my last prelim without noting it was my last. My last Ithaca snow — dreadfully late into spring — fell onto my unsuspecting head without any consideration for how this would never happen again. When would be my last time crying in office hours? My last all-nighter, making ramen and a soft-boiled egg at 3:00 a.m.? I didn’t realize the finality of any of these things until it was too late. They filed away in my brain as the tiny, patterned moments that made up these big four years.

But I know this is my last column. It’s happening right before my eyes, and it’s so hard to know what to say. Over these past couple of years, my opinion columns have been biweekly deadlines that I used to deal with the world around me. Week after week, I was an advice column directed at myself. I wrote exactly what I needed to hear. I am most grateful for those people that reached out to me to thank me — to tell me that my words were what they needed to hear, too. These tender points of contact made me feel connected to this column and to this campus in a very real and rare way. They reminded me of the humanness of writing, the way it can create and foster gratitude or shine a light on commonalities that we all thought were our own peculiarities.

Receiving an email to my Sun email address with the words “Thank You” in the subject line took me by the shoulders and shook me every time. I sometimes have convinced myself that no one reads this column, or that the only people who do just want to argue or that these words don’t mean anything to anyone except for me. Thank you to every person who took a minute to tell me, even if just this once, that I was wrong.

Going through to reread these emails got me thinking about every moment I’ve had like this in the past four years, when unexpected intimacy sprung like a hand growing straight out of the ground. Sometimes intimacy is a place, like that grassy spot by Beebe lake that always welcomes me back. Sometimes it is a nod from that professor who always orders a cappuccino from me at Temple of Zeus. Sometimes it is when the rain stops just as my class gets out on a day when I forgot my umbrella. Once it was a stranger who touched my shoulder as they passed me on the slope as I took one of the worst phone calls of my life. So many days I felt so alone here, like I was in the wrong body, in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. But that’s what makes those moments of shared experience, perfect timing or welcome space feel so special — they come when and where we least expect them.

I believe that to truly love a place, you really only need a few tender points of contact: memories, places or people that make you feel like you belong. In Ithaca, I have kept my eyes and ears open for the moments that tell me “I’m so happy that you’re here.” I will always remember quiet nights on the Stewart Ave. bridge, walking home alone and hearing rushing water underneath my wobbly, high-heeled feet. I will always remember early hours in my Donlon dorm room, laughing and crying with my roommate, eating takeout Pad Thai while trying to concentrate on my flashcards. I will always remember sharing a good cry during Orientation Week with someone I haven’t seen since. These are the times when my feet have felt fully on the ground — where I felt like I was in exactly the right place, in the right body, doing the right thing.

Having this space in The Sun to share my fears and ideas and life has given me so much tender contact with the student body. These columns allowed me to cultivate a sense of community during these four years so far from home. Through private notes or emails or a quick conversation about what I wrote, these little intimacies made my life on this campus built on a secluded hill  feel less treacherous, even if  just until the scene passed. I’ve realized that when you reach out with a soft, hopeful hand to the world asking for reassurance, the world will offer all that it can. And for every moment that I felt connected to Cornell, I am so grateful. Ithaca has been such forgiving ground to fall back on, and I will miss it always.

Sarah Lieberman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at slieberman@cornellsun.com. Blueberries for Sal runs every other Tuesday this semester.