Dorm Room Scene

A dorm room at Brandeis. The month was November, the sky gray, and the air damp – the time of year when it might rain or snow at any moment, but can’t make up its mind. Dusk settles early after the changing of the clocks, and at the dinner hour it is already dark. The radiator by the window hisses, as tiny beads of water condense on the pane. In the room, the only light comes from the outside safety lamp and the sliver of hallway fluorescence beneath the door.

The question is whether to walk all the way across campus to Sherman Hall to eat a quick dinner, or to take a nap and vainly attempt an escape until it’s really night. So much of life is taken up with these in-between moments – the ticking of the clock before or after what you think really matters. The waiting for something to begin. Five and ten-minute chunks of time where the real stuff of life happens. (Like sitting next to my husband in the moments before a movie is about to begin, holding off on the popcorn or not, and reading silly movie trivia over and over.)

On this November night – the night I am remembering from college – there is one of those transitions of time, in which I debate what to do next, while the clock ticks away. My coat is already on, but I hesitate, leaning back against the desk and looking outside. In my head, I go through the evening of coursework that should be done, that needs to be done, that absolutely must be done.

Our days are filled with hundreds of little decisions that must be made, and the thought that any one of them could be the one that changes our lives is a daunting, sometimes crippling idea. I don’t get bogged down in the details, in the endless decision-shifting. Make a choice and make the best of it. We cannot dwell in the past – but sometimes, on certain November nights, the past returns, if for no other reason than to remind us that while waiting for something to happen we might miss what is already happening.

The pockets of time we throw away – alone in a dorm room, commuting to work, waiting for the doctor to see us – have their own dim beauty, while carrying their own little light. I remember that night at Brandeis whenever I feel time might be getting away, when I question whether my life is on auto-pilot, when I need the inspiration to live in the moment. To be fully aware, to be completely cognizant, to notice and take in all of what surrounds us – this is how to be present, how to be a part of something. And after everything, all we really want is to belong.

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