It was a short week, but I somehow managed to survive it. Classes started this week and to be honest I wasn’t sure if I was prepared. And not in the sense that I wasn’t prepared with notes, or with a list of projects, or with a full docket of activities and guest lectures for class. I was worried that I wasn’t mentally prepared for the return of the students and the changes that their return always brings to campus. More than that, after 4 months of travel I was worried that returning to my regular life would seem slightly off, slightly awkward, or somehow out of step.
Fortunately, the return of the students wasn’t nearly the shock to the system that I thought it was going to be. In retrospect, I think their return was accompanied by the same sort of shock and awe that I’ve come to expect during orientation week on campus; that my summertime absence hadn’t left me overly sensitive to the hustle and bustle of crowds. And it might seem weird that the inundation of doe-eyed innocents might leave those of us who’ve never left campus in a such a state, but you have to realize how drastically campus changes when we step over the boundary that divides August from September. The courtyards that were once abuzz with the sound of insects, birds, and the lazy summer chatter from tables dotted with undergraduate research assistants, graduate students, faculty, and staff, are replaced by an electrified mass of teenagers, clubs, whistles, and the battle of various top-40 songs that scream from competing speakers. Casual line-ups are replaced by mobs of students making fast friends as they wait to order their food, or coffee, or books. Traffic flows are disrupted. The collective patience of those who never left is tested.
Of course, despite the shockwave that returning students create, they bring with them an energy that you can’t help but love. Yes, their return signals the end of the carefree days of summer, but it also brings a sense of renewal to campus. I’ve heard countless people over the last few weeks talk to me about the new semester the way most people discuss the new year. With so much energy and excitement on campus, with so much hope and nervousness and potential, it can’t help but seem like the perfect time to evaluate where you are and what you’re doing, to set new goals, to desire to be better.
And while I have found myself a bit more sensitive this year to the clamor of the crowds, and the constant knock-knock-knocking on my office door by students in need of signatures or advice or who just wanted to say hi, I really can’t help but love this time of year. However, it seems that the sense of renewal that the return of the students brings has far more meaning for me this year than in previous years. After having spent my summer traveling the world experiencing the different cultures and lands that I was so fortunate enough to see, I came home slower than when I had left. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself choosing to turn off my computer instead of working into the wee hours. I’ve selected an afternoon outside taking pies in the face instead of an afternoon in my office attempting to get ahead of my classroom lectures. I’ve given myself permission to snuggle and nap with the wee fuzzball instead of rushing out to yet another event. I’ve allowed myself to say no to new projects and new demands. I’ve ignored the guilt that typically comes whenever I’m not working. I’ve accidentally left my computer, my baby, at the pub because I was so distracted by a particularly good date. And I’ve purposefully opted to resist jumping into the frantic, trying instead a path less typically traveled by me.
I have no idea how long this new me will last as I easily succumb to the siren call of projects, to being constantly productive, to forgetting to stop and smell the proverbial roses. All I know is that I like the slower version of me, and I’m going to try to keep him around for as long as I can.