The Company of Solitude | St. Lawrence University

The Company of Solitude

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Before pulling up to 23 Romoda Drive, every person had a certain reason for choosing St. Lawrence as their new home. Perhaps you chose St. Lawrence because of a family member or the “gut feeling” our college guidance counselors warned us about with a twinkle in their eyes, hinting that we’d know when we’d find our new home like they were a fortune teller. Maybe it was the way the foliage looked on a warm, but not too warm, breezy October day with the Adirondack Mountains hugging the campus. Perhaps it was because of athletics, the opportunities in the arts, or the incredible study-abroad programs sprinkled around the globe, begging us to become critical thinkers of the world. Regardless of your “why,” we each made the active decision to walk through the doors of Payson and become Laurentians. Even if we ended up at St. Lawrence with kids from our hometowns or schools, we each went to bed alone one night knowing we’d be in the company of strangers that chose the same place. It was a solo group endeavor we ironically found ourselves taking a part in. 

On one side of the spectrum, there is solitude; on the other there is company. Somewhere in the middle is where we are now. It’s remarkable how two words that insinuate a difference can actually work in tandem during trying times. It enables us to move past the verbatim definition and look at our current situation as Laurentians around the world. It parallels the way we found ourselves at St. Lawrence - for all different reasons, yet we all unearth a sense of togetherness tying us all to each other. It is because of this discovery that we’re able to see how words like “solitude” and “company” - where they seem nonsynonymous - are actually able to help us find each other. 

During the early weeks in March, students were informed that they were going home for a longer Spring Break and temporary remote learning because of the global pandemic, the coronavirus (COVID-19). Not long after that were students informed this was going to be the way Spring 2020 would pan out. For the past weeks, seniors have heard people express their apologies and heartfelt condolences because we “lost” part of our final year and the memories that were supposed to tie with it. It’s appreciated, but in a few months, those words and phrases will become trite. People are sorry because of the memories they have and wish we could have, too, but we made so many memories this year and are continuing to make our own memories. Yes, our time at St. Lawrence was shorter than others, but it doesn’t take away from so many things we’ve all shared and experienced together. 

We’ve all experienced a Pub wrap, theme dinners, candlelight ceremonies, sporting events. We’ve all poured into Gunnison Memorial Chapel at one point or another. For some, we’ve had nights we can’t remember nor care to remember. We’ve run, walked, biked, skied the trails that trace the perimeter around the school and cut through courses and fields alike. We’ve been late to class because our alarms didn’t go off, or we were too busy cutting through the Student Center saying “Hi!” to so many people that before we knew it, class had already begun. We’ve all felt the crisp, cold air whip against our faces and the warm aroma of spring fill our lungs. Whether we knew it or not, in the bleak of night or early hours of the morning or random points of the day, we've cried and laughed while someone else was probably doing the same. The memories are there and will continue to be there as we come up with a plan as to how we’ll come back together soon. 

We don’t have a word, a date, a specific time when we’ll all reconvene back to normal. Quite frankly, “back to normal” will never be the same and should become an obsolete notion. Why should we become so accustomed to one way of living that we can’t imagine anything different? What we’re doing now and what we’re living with is what St. Lawrence has taught us to do. We’ve been taught to challenge, question, fight against the norm. We’ve been encouraged to see other perspectives and prepare for change, not be fearful of it. With normalcy comes the danger of nostalgia and hinders our excitement to move forward. By the time we return to campus, we all would have experienced some degree of isolation from our friends, loved ones, and everyone in between. We all would have experienced what it was like to go to our respective hometowns and sit with the unknown. It’s jarring not to know our next step, but isn’t that the case for everyone? Right now, the certainty is uncertain and we must embrace our time in this moment, guided by a fond memory not burdened by a past “what if."

For once in our lives, we are asked so little: to pause. We are asked to stay home, take care of ourselves. We are asked to practice mindfulness in the people we find ourselves with. That’s it. It is a moment like this where I find more in common with words like “company” and “solitude” than I do with “isolation." We hear the buzz phrase “social distancing” so often, however, break apart those two words and you’ll see the opposite of that is not removal or isolation, yet it’s keeping in touch and keeping safe. Distance yourself from situations where you could potentially become sick but stay social, stay hopeful. Stay in the company of those you’re with now and know that in the world, another Laurentian is doing the same thing. 

Without a doubt, it’s not easy being far from our friends or our beloved professors every day, especially when asked to do this so suddenly. When one person leaves, it leaves a welt in our hearts. We ache for that person and the footprint they left. However, that being said, right now, we all are somehow still in solitude - no one is more superior, and everyone is being asked to do the same thing and pray for the same, healthy outcome. 

While graduation has been postponed, classes are now remote, and the NCAA has been halted, it’s only for a moment. Of course, we’ll never have certain competitions, performances, or presentations completed, but we must realize how fortunate we are to have loved a place, a group of people, a sport so much because we will indeed go back to the place that brought us all this. 

As we wait and hope for the best, let’s recognize and separate our mourning and melancholic feelings for the place that’s near to our hearts. It’s imperative not to confuse mourning this situation with melancholia where we fall to the obstruction of a fond memory. Through the process of mourning, we will be able to move on and focus on celebrating the memories, the cliché moments that have made us Laurentians alike. Let’s look back with a certain fondness on that mundane day where we were walking from the townhouses to the library and thought about how long the walk was. Let’s look back and think about the buildings we passed along the way. Think about the moments we had in those buildings; the friendships we made there, the struggles we had in a classroom there, or the success we had there as well. Let’s shift our mind to everyday matters. It didn’t matter that it was freezing or the walk was nearly half a mile, it mattered that we had it every day in person for so long and we still can have it today if we choose to look at our memories with a fond lens.