On a phone call with my dad recently, he noted: four years is a long time for a young person. Even before the pandemic hit, it sometimes felt difficult to draw lines of continuity between semesters — especially after returning from a semester abroad to an unfamiliar Ithaca. It’s strange but reassuring, with all this forward momentum, to re-encounter old pieces of wisdom — especially in books, songs, quotes — as if a reminder to sit with them, and re-learn their lessons again.
One piece of wisdom that I first met last January, with no knowledge of the tumultuous time ahead: “Life is short, we don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”
I feel torn between an unwillingness to believe fatalistically in endings, and a fear that I might be underemphasizing the uniqueness of being at Cornell and at Ithaca. The above quote feels like an important reminder: the urgency with which I need to love remains throughout my life. What changes is the context and circumstances through which I can love people, pursuits and causes.
This commitment to love can sometimes be the effect of a singular, strong positive memory (e.g. a younger me was fond of parrots, because of one or two exceptionally friendly strays), the conceptual idea of its beauty (“parrots are intelligent, monogamous, social”, etc.) or a sustained intimate relationship (the parrot example only goes so far, but parrot-owners could perhaps attest to this).
While I mostly apply this to my time at Cornell in general, a lot of this thinking is also relevant to my opportunity to write for The Sun. Conceptually, it has been educational, a broad lesson inthe meaning of words and identities in a political climate that is not my own. Unfortunately, some of this learning was retrospective, but importantly experiential (and now is a good time to make mistakes). Both these misshots and more educated attempts are striking and discrete memories that I have been grateful for.
I remain committed to this concept even as I graduate away from the opportunity to keep writing as a columnist. Yet above all, the very process of learning to write on this platform — having the opportunity to receive tips, advice and harsh and educational feedback from incredible editors; having discussions and disagreements with friends; researching and paying attention to the ways others speak on similar topics on similar platforms — have planted seeds I never anticipated would be planted, seeds that I’m grateful to have had the chance to begin thinking about.
The crazed nature of this past year has brought out the difficulty of commitment despite changing circumstances, and the importance of being deliberate about choosing what aspects of these changes to let affect and improve this commitment, and which to leave out. This takeaway feels especially relevant to how different writing as a columnist has felt through drastic personal and national changes.
I have not been excellent at commitment, the bulk of my work lives as unpublished drafts. There is much I wish I had investigated more deeply in order to tell — the meaning of domestic activism to international students; the fluidity of housing through the pandemic; Ithaca’s local communal spirit — but also remember the tone my dad takes on as he remarks on these and like regrets: “That’s just life”. Selfishly, conversations I have had with other individuals to better understand these topics have been enriching in and of themselves, and I’m grateful to have had them, and for the push to.
Especially through inaccurate writing and failures to commit, it has meant the world to have had people see the good in my writing and the best in myself even when I struggled to see it. Even in smaller ways like a former TA who read past a column’s dense and incoherent writing, and enthusiastically shared his thoughts on its ideas. I keep a good memory of every message or conversation I’ve had on them, and with great gratitude. I am especially grateful to a close friend, who has read nearly every draft and finished column, and told me when something he knows I mean in one way means something else in a political climate he is more familiar with, and when “it’s not one of my best”, or “I’ve made this point before several times.”
“There is a difference between writing an Opinion piece and writing in a blog, or a personal diary”, was the advice once given at a Sun alumni workshop. There have been points where I have been painfully irresponsible with this distinction — in particular with a column on mental health. Amidst both public condemnation and private harassment, every individual that saw enough of my person to voice their disagreements directly, affirm my ideas despite their poor delivery, or check in to see if I was alright, offered an amount of grace that I am grateful for and committed to passing forward as a type of love through obscuring circumstances.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to keep writing through these vastly changing circumstances, and for the support and encouragement of every individual; for every conversation it has opened, every opinion (of mine) it has transformed, and the ways these conversations and lessons will sustain themselves within me into the future.
Kristi Lim is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the last installment of her column, What the Hell Is Water.