As my eyes glance around Widener’s reading room, admiring the seemingly endless rows of bookshelves and the large empty space, I realize I’ve never felt so claustrophobic. The books surround me like an overwhelming enemy army. Calendar reminders transfigure into hovering birds and harshly peck until I address them. The air becomes so polluted with emails that I begin to choke. My eyes settle on the thick physics notebook and stack of readings on the desk, and I immediately seek relief by looking for the door.
I need to leave.
Escaping through the door, my feet land on wet, loose sand with the quiet crunch of a seashell. The Danish flag billows above as I breathe in the salty air and breathe out the stress. In the smell of yet-to-be-tasted pastries, out the lingering stench of Lamont. In the exciting travel, out the suffocating ivy. Armed with personal freedom and intoxicated by the beauty of historical sites, I let spontaneity and adventure serve as my guide. Cathedrals replace calendar notifications, palaces problem sets, rivers response papers. My soul mirrors the peace of the lakes I visit.
My escapades lead me four thousand miles from home, and I realize that, despite my unbridled enjoyment of my new vagabond existence, I am still unhappy. The superficial, selfish joy I derive from traveling cannot fill the absence of greater purpose. Prayer guides me to Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (NIV). God’s preeminence and permanence remind me of the significance of God’s work in the world and my role in it.
Renewing my devotion to God and what I presume is my calling, I gingerly reopen the door and return to Harvard.
My heart still aches to travel, to run away from a suffocating environment, but nevertheless, it acknowledges its home: school and all the accompanying responsibilities. Still, acceptance does not restrain the stressful, overwhelming nature of college for long, and the desire to leave reemerges. How can I find purpose at Harvard anyway? What greater meaning could hide behind classes and activities? Why am I here again?
This time, the wise words of Randy Pausch, in his book The Last Lecture, resolve my existential crisis: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” Perhaps the never-ending stream of midterms and assignments and meetings and work are simply the brick walls between us and the achievement of our callings. Perhaps there is a greater test lurking underneath the stacks of readings and problem sets, a test of our commitment and our faith. Perhaps the desire to leave presents the greatest challenge.
I know it does for me.
Elizabeth Hubbard ’18 is a Junior in Lowell House studying Human Developmental & Regenerative Biology.