a big beautiful mess

The Power of Place

brunch at Esselon

I traveled to Smith last weekend, ostensibly for Commencement, but in truth to see some friends who would be there, also using Commencement as an excuse. Despite my tightening budget, it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

Smith has always held a certain power for me; it was the place I felt most at home, most purposeful, most connected to the people around me. I expected the visit to be a powerful experience, as in powerful angst, nostalgia, and crippling emotions that would prevent me from being fully present in the short time I had to reconnect with my friends.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find that while I no longer felt that I truly belonged at Smith, I also wasn’t too worried about it. I made a slightly misty drive through campus immediately upon my arrival, though the weepiness was probably attributable to having just spent 10 hours on the road. After that, the rest of the weekend was forward-thinking and cheerful.

One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing my college academic adviser, Maria. We had planned to meet at an event on Saturday evening, but somehow missed each other by a margin of about 5 minutes. Distressed, I wandered campus, visiting the two places I had seen her most as a student: the Russian Room in Hatfield Hall, and her office. She was, unsurprisingly, in neither of those locations on a Saturday after the end of the semester.

Finally, I made my way towards her house, which I had been invited to once or twice, wondering if this was a gross intrusion and a bad idea. With some trepidation, I rang the bell. After a moment, I saw Maria coming down the hall towards me, and all trepidation melted away. She warmly welcomed me in, apologizing just as vehemently as me for having missed me. Her husband was eating dinner, but they both insisted I come in and sit down. Maria opened a bottle of white wine and the pressed food upon me, including crackers and what her husband described as “a disappointing cheese.”

The conversation was uplifting and marvelous. Talking with Maria has always had a way of sharpening my vision, making me aware of the potential greatness lurking in everyone’s life, but mine specifically. We talked about my time in Russia, graduate school, the state of the Russian Department at Smith, Elif Batuman, about life and love. I left with a renewed sense of conviction and purpose in more than one aspect of my life.

Back with my friends, the conversation turned to the sense we all shared of being friendless after scattering to the four winds post-Smith. We celebrated each other’s successes, not least of all Sally’s coffee-shop-cum-bar the Foundry being open for over a year. And we speculated about what the future might hold. But none of us (not even me!) wished we were back in college. Despite the challenges and uncertainties of this “real world,” our futures are only getting better.

It’s relieving and invigorating to realize that Smith and Northampton can continue to be a lodestone for me. It’s a place where I can plug back into the things that make me feel like I have direction in a chaotic, directionless adulthood: my friends, my Russophilia, an abundance of books, not to mention excellent food and beer.


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