I spent most of my life wanting to be more alone: wanting to leave neighborhood pickup whiffle ball games early so that I could instead go read a book, wanting my own bedroom at home instead of sharing with my brother, wanting to leave home for college and, once here, waiting anxiously to have a single. No roommate for me; I just wanted to be alone.
That fantasy of seclusion is deeply carved into the American psyche, built into the narratives of every successful politician and every movie superhero. Even the Bible sends its protagonist to the wilderness for rebirth. We aspire to retreat into the backwoods when all else fails, and then to wall ourselves off in gated houses ringed by hedges when we succeed. While we work towards that lofty vision, we make do with white wires that plug music into our heads and lounges that have been converted into dorms because we don’t value the space that we provide as much as we value the contributions of a few more paying customers.
Even in our romantic efforts, such as they are at this place, we tend towards the solitary. There is no lonelier moment than the long walk home the day after a meaningless encounter, no deeper connection in a single drunken rendezvous with a stranger, where the conversation is scattered, not remembered, or entirely absent. We say that we would like to fix this, but we never take action to change.
We have become far too skilled at being alone together.
This is my fiftieth and final column for the Campus. While turning in my thesis last week might have seemed a more momentous occasion, these pieces stacked on top of each other would make a taller pile. In a little over a week I will ski down the Snow Bowl, pack my possessions into my car, and hope that it doesn’t break down on my way out of the state. I will finally have the option to be completely alone. I could call it soul-searching, or recharging, tell everyone that I need some space. But at long last, perhaps later than I might have hoped, I know that is not what I want.
We blaze trails not so that we might escape the world, but so that others might follow. Life is better with companionship. We are not born alone nor do we die that way; we are born into the embrace of our families and when we die they gather around to recount the happy moments of our lives, and the moments in between where we steal solitude from company are the moments most likely to later bear the tinge of regret.
As I move on into the next chapter, I do not regret the excesses of my time in college: the times that the night ended and the sun rose over the Green Mountains while my friends and I sat and talked about everything and nothing, the hours spent in Proctor over many tiny courses, or the morning classes that I blew off to head to make fresh tracks at the Snow Bowl. What I do regret are the times that I held back. I regret waiting until junior year to try out the sailing and debate teams. I regret waiting to join my social house and the Campus editorial staff until my senior spring, content for too long to contribute only this column. I regret valuing solitude and down time over team spirit and hard work.
The best friends that I have made here have been when I have taken a chance and given other people the chance to reject me flat out or welcome me into their circle. That may seem like an incredibly obvious point for a final column, but it is one that we only think about at orientation and I know too many people here with that same problem. Instead of complaining about hookup culture, ask somebody out the dinner, drinks or skiing. A shocking number of my male and female friends complain about the lack of dating at Middlebury. Too many seem to fear that the sheer act of asking reeks of desperation, but the regret of not acting far outlasts whatever embarrassment it might cause (especially if you don’t write about it in the Campus). Middlebury only changes when we do.
Some last shout-outs from my bully pulpit: Hannah — I was convinced that we would be at each other’s throats, but I have really looked forward to working with you every week to put this section together. Kyle and Alex — you have done an amazing job this semester. Middlebury — fossil fuel divestment makes financial sense. Rachel and the SGA — please reconsider the community education requirement. Dining services — more taco days! To everyone who read “Apply Liberally” over the past four years — it’s been a pleasure. I leave you with the words of President Josiah Bartlett (D-Sorkinland):
Illustration by Nolan Ellsworth