Let it ache when it aches, let it go when it goes

Some words from my senior self to my freshman self.

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Schuhler reflects on lessons she learned during college as graduation approaches.

Amelia Schuhler, Opinions Editor

“Are we ready to start processing graduation?” my therapist, Ashley, asks me while I arrange pillows around myself on my bed, an ice cream sandwich in one hand. “Yeah, I think so,” I replied, already a little overwhelmed. “Okay, let’s start with a breathing exercise,” she says through the computer. “Breathe in for four, hold for seven and exhale for eight.” She begins to count for me. I inhale, filling my lungs like balloons, I hold, and I exhale, letting them deflate. I try to think of what to say next, and decide to say that I am beginning to feel relieved to be graduating, stifling the more complex emotions that I cannot yet put into words. 

At this point, I think most of the people in my life are aware that I am a sentimental person who tends to grieve things before they happen. Graduation, a looming reality that either hinders or delights seniors everywhere, is one of those endings I have begun to grieve.

I do not think I considered this version of myself as a freshman. If I could go back in time I would probably just stare at her and not know what to say. I would want to show her my room so she could see our accumulation of Torrey books, the pile of clothes she would be unfamiliar with and the tower of medication bottles that I have collected and she would be surprised to see. She might jokingly comment on the new lines that have formed in between my eyebrows and ask me what the plan is for after graduation. I would shrug and say, “I’m not sure yet, maybe I’ll open a farmers market stand.” And then she would probably start to freak out. 

Being a senior feels good if I do not think about it too hard. I did not enjoy having to go to chapel under the penalty of a fine, and I am very glad to have been in the 2019 catalog year so I never had to take English 313. I am also pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be a good decision to stay in school during COVID, because I am ready to be done now. 

I see the coming months like a hallway, and at the end is a vision of graduation — it is sunny, I feel taller, my hair is a little longer and from my vantage point here in January I mentally organize my future self and friends for a photo. Before that, there will be a series of student events which I will feel more and more distance from but will show up to because I do not want to miss anything. Then my last spring break will come and go, and in April I will walk through galleries that house my dearest friend’s senior shows, some of which will exhibit fragments of my own self. I will sit in a comfy red chair and watch every senior thesis, proud to see my name in some of the credits. Then, I will shake the hands of my favorite professors, and leave thank-you gifts at their offices. I will write letters to a couple of people, maybe to be dropped in their mailboxes or taped to their bikes. And at some point, I will open a tiny note that my friend crammed into a small hole in a wall in my room that I am not supposed to read until graduation. All of these small checkpoints tether me, like Ashley counting “breathe in, two, three, four, and hold, two, three, four, five, six, seven…”

I think I would start by telling my freshman self to begin the process of applying for academic accommodations as soon as possible. Then I would give her a haggard look and say, “Show up to class, ask for help, and get some sleep.” I would reassure her that the continual pressure in her chest and behind her eyes is what grief feels like for us, and it should be given space — but I would stumble over my words, hesitant to say more because I know I have a hard time listening to myself. I would tell her to switch her major, and that “done” is better than “perfect.” I would do my best to help her understand that desire is not a bad thing at all, and that it is now one of my favorite features of being a person. At this point, I would need to take a deep breath and try to accept that there are a lot of things I cannot persuade her to do differently. Then I would laugh, remembering to tell her to replace the axle in her car or else the wheels would fall off. And I would tell her to let things ache when they ache, but let them go when they go.

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