Only four weeks ago, I was relaxing in a cabin in Tennessee, reading children’s literature for a class. It was a normal spring break, and while I was enjoying the time with my family, I was also ready to see my college housemates again.
But that’s when I first heard we wouldn’t be coming back, at least not until March 30 — and the impending dread set in as colleges across the nation began sending students home.
We all know by now what happened in the following weeks, including the expected but disappointing news we received last week: we will not be returning to campus to finish the spring semester. As a senior, it hurt to read those words. The class of 2020 has spent the last four years learning to love the people and the places of our small corner in Michigan, and to love one another. Now, events that we cannot fully explain and can do nothing to change have cut short our time together.
We can’t commiserate over papers and final exams in the library. We can’t dance the night away at Centralhallapalooza. We can’t grab some victory ice cream from A.J.’s on the last day of classes. Of course, we’re grieving this loss, and that’s OK. We should be.
J.R.R. Tolkien knew we needed to allow ourselves to feel sadness. In one particularly poignant passage at the end of “The Return of the King,” Frodo is about to sail away, leaving his friends behind.
“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth,” Gandalf says to the gathered companions. “Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
And this, especially now, is what we need to remind ourselves: that not all tears are evil.
When we feel sorrow at the absence of good things, it shows we’re human. Loss, even if temporary, is something we start dealing with at a young age, so we know not to be surprised when it comes.
As a child, friends and I would hide from whichever mother arrived to take one of us back home after a playdate. Surely, we thought, we could prolong the inevitable by avoiding the front door, but, in the end, there was always the sad farewell.
Of course, we have to be careful about letting our sorrow turn into ingratitude. For the seniors, as for others, Hillsdale has given us special gifts, gifts that none of us deserved. Despite the tears we may shed, we can be thankful for the blessings bestowed on us through friends, faculty, and local residents.
But don’t fight your grief as if it’s a sign of ingratitude. Let yourself be sad, and give thanks for the blessings you’ve received.
One afternoon this week, I suddenly was overcome with sadness at the fact that I would not have another chance to sit outside the library with friends, enjoying springtime and good company. But this simultaneously brought back memories of exactly what I was grieved to lose. I recalled a time when I was lying on the grass, reading medieval devotions for my medieval literature class with Professor of English Justin Jackson. A friend interjected and started posing questions about theology to those of us there. It ended up being one of the best conversations I’ve had about God’s love. And it was the act of grieving that brought this memory back to mind.
This season away from Hillsdale, at least for me, has proved to be something of a paradox: I ache at the loss I experience, but that aching leads to remembering. Even beyond that, for graduating seniors, our friendships don’t end now. We will stay in touch, even if it’s not the same as being together.
As Saint-Exupery’s little prince tells the narrator, “when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend.”
Nolan Ryan is a senior studying English. He is the editor-in-chief of The Collegian.