A love letter to Paresky

If I were to tell you I’m spending tonight writing a love letter to Paresky, would you look at me like I’ve got four heads? And if I told you that I’m writing it all because I saw a woman tenderly pet Sawyer Library this week, would that help?

I was skeptical at first, too, when I saw a tearful alumna stroking the staircase walls of the old Sawyer Library. Entirely absorbed with what I could only assume was a trance, she barely noticed as I sidled up beside her. She eventually explained that she had come back to say goodbye to old Sawyer, the library where she had written a thesis about a topic she’d gone on to research for most of her professional life. “I overlooked this place,” she explained. “I didn’t know how good I had it back then, how big a deal those all-nighters were going to be.”

When I was in high school, my favorite teacher gave a talk, the transcript of which has lived in the top drawer of each of my dorm-desks here at the College. In it, he argued that growing up was just realizing the significance of moments sooner and sooner after they happen. He claimed that being an adult meant that you knew, most times at least, how important something would be just as soon as it was. Maybe even as it was about to be. The woman I found saying goodbye to Sawyer, I think, must believe the very same thing, must wish she had seen her thesis carrel as it was, but with all the emotional weight of what it would become in her memory. That changes everything.

For example, imagine the heavy, solid slam of the car door behind you the first time you stepped out onto Spring St., sleepy and five minutes late for the tour of a campus you know you’ll call your alma mater. This time, the door slams louder, more resolutely. Imagine eating the Dr. Strangepork you ordered afterwards, knowing it would be the first of hundreds you’d order at the small-town deli that would become your all-time favorite. That way, the bread is more perfectly toasted, the pickle perfectly sour.

Imagine taking a few midnight minutes to look lovingly around the empty, sleeping building where you wrote your senior thesis, already tipped-in to the fact that it is the construction site for the first draft of your life’s work.  Now try to tell me Paresky doesn’t seem more regal, that Baxter Hall doesn’t really look silver in the darkness.

And so I got to wondering: What have I overlooked or under-experienced in the last four years here? What are my “Sawyers?”

But it’s impossible to know, of course. I understand that, much like that alum, no one lives all of one’s important moments knowing full well how important they really are. Often, we fumble our way through the events we’ll put in bold font later on. And so we cannot always teeter in these bizarre, grateful, bewildered moments that are simultaneously exactly right now and also somewhere much later. Short a time capsule or a crystal ball, we can’t even really know which moments upon which to teeter. But we can guess. And, theoretically at least, the more we grow up the better we are at it.

But the fear that lurks behind the apocalyptic nostalgia of senior spring, of course, is that – like the alumna – we didn’t quite get good enough. Not in time, at least. I know there are things I’ll find myself coming back to that I didn’t appreciate enough in real-time: nights in a full entry common room, mid-semester coffee with a mustached professor, College Council debates that ran out the clock. Sadly, perhaps inevitably, I expect my brain will come back to moments of or places at the College that I never let it linger on long enough as they happened.

I worry about it often, perpetually now, in these last few weeks before the final buzzer. I frantically imagine which Sawyers will sit empty and unrecognized inside my head, which have been bulldozed by forgetfulness or preoccupation. I know I didn’t cherish each moment of my time here quite as much as time will reveal they deserved. But I also know that this bizarre, time capsule love letter to Paresky is a start.

And so, in 85 years from this June’s Commencement, I’m sure I’ll be back here petting the letters embossed in stone at the back door of Paresky. I’ll be haunting the Quiet Room one final time, slowly saying my farewells to a student center they’ll soon tear down in favor of a building that even more closely resembles a spaceship.

Some senior will walk past me eventually, shaking her head inside the hood of the sweatshirt she also wore yesterday. Soon, she will decide that I’m nuts. And a moment after that, she will scuttle off in the direction of whatever fuchsia block is floating next in her iCal, muttering – I don’t get it, this one will have a fireplace that actually works – and I will be left standing there alone.

But not quite alone, not really, because this version of me, sitting now in the sunset of my senior year, will be there too – and this love letter will comfort me a little bit: Don’t worry so much. We knew, or at least really tried to know, just how good we really had it.

Emily Calkins ’14 is an English and political science double major from Baltimore, Md. She lives on Spring St.

  • Jessica ’14

    This is beautiful and perfect. Thank you for writing this, Emily. I’m so glad I’m not the only one already fearing the nostalgia I know I’ll have! Really a wonderful way to present it. Thank you.

  • Sad Senior

    Emily, this is an absolutely stunning summary of a feeling many/all of us are having. Thank you, as always, for writing and lending your voice to some of the things that are hardest to say here on Campus. I admire you so much and adore this piece. Way to go!