You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.
I never once thought about the day after college graduation.
It’s a season of celebration, to be sure. Family comes together and gifts are laid at your diploma-holding feet. You wear an oversized bathrobe and walk across the stage, shaking the hands of older people who have done this before you, feeling decrepit yourself.
And then it’s done. 6 seconds. Your name is called. You grab your diploma. And that’s it.
4 years. Over.
To be sure, I won’t ever forget the joy in my heart as it was my turn to be honored, even if only for a few seconds. A lot of work went into this piece of paper: 4 years of classes, tests, living in a college dorm room, eating in a cafeteria, walking in sub-zero temperatures. I cried a lot here, stress-slept a lot here. Underwent a season of mono, a season of anxiety, a season of depression. 4 years of reminding myself it’s ok to be single, that an un-held hand is still an important one. Day after day of crying in the stairwell, crying on my futon, crying in my bed, crying in the cafeteria.
This diploma. Yes, I deserve it.
But no one ever warned me about the day after.
Anomaly. a deviation from the common rule. I feel like one. Because in a season of intense celebration, I mourn.
This place was my home, these people my family. For 4 years. And I tried, tried hard to understand the joy of some and incorporate it into my own heart, but it didn’t work.
Some may see white cinderblock walls of a sub-par dorm room. I see the best of times. The books that were read. Movie nights with the roommate. That one Sunday night of bible study where we ended up just laughing and taking it outdoors for star-tipping: (ministry in its purest form, if you ask me.)
The times I would overcome panic only by the Truths found in the Word of God.
Walking in on my roommate fighting her own battle. Her walking in on me, puffy eyes, John 10 opened in my worn Bible. Hugs. Acceptance.
Boy talk in towels. Community around a Whale Pale of Cookies & Cream. Cardio dance videos.
Talking. About what should have been, what wasn’t right. What needs to be.
I loved it, every juvenile second. A bunch of big kids trying to figure out why we’re here, pretending to understand things we never will.
And saying goodbye. Why do some pretend that it is easy? Maybe for them it is.
For me, it was unearthing a tree planted without giving it time to grow. It was ripping a child from its mother’s arms. It hurt. Deeply, badly.
Four days ago I stood in my empty dorm room, the only memory of my footprint in the black stain I accidentally left on the wall. A hundred girls have lived here before, and a hundred girls after. I’m not ready to say goodbye: I want it to be mine forever. I don’t want to be forgotten, don’t want anyone else to claim the room that saw me in my worst. I don’t want to graduate, to become someone who “used to”, while a bunch of 18 year olds become what “is”.
All this time, I thought the Lord had kept me from falling in love on this campus. As I looked around my empty dorm room, I knew I was wrong.
Mom is on the other side of the door and she hugs me. I thought I was out of tears, thought I had rung myself dry.
“It’s time for new adventures.”
And I turn my back, because there is nothing else to do.
I never once thought about the day after college graduation. The week after.
It needs honored, I feel. Nothing hurts more than anecdotes from well meaning people that refer to college as what used to be, but has faded for them, so far away. For me, it’s my now. It’s real, my hands still clutching letters written from life-long friends.
And yet I pity those who don’t miss it, who dreamed for the day they would be gone. What is a season of life if it is not embraced fully, despite the pain after?
I fell in love with my campus, with the girls on my hallway, with the greasy cafeteria food. I fell in love, and now it hurts, and yet I do not regret it.
It needed to be loved. I needed to love it, to be changed by it. To feel the pain of leaving it.
It’s life, a painful one full of love lost. A real one.
And it’s mine, whatever that means today.