There’s a before and after for pretty much everything, except maybe the universe. But that’s pretty much a truism, so why even bring it up?
It’s because the way we experience it is so different. We’ll tell a friend about how a class went on forever or look back at the quarter and say it passed by in a flash. This sort of feeling to me seems to be pretty much universal, but we let the absurdity of it pass by with a wink and a nod. Telling ourselves that we can’t remember it all, so there can’t be too much point to gathering everything up inside ourselves.
The problem with this cavalier attitude towards our past comes later. When we try to put together the fragments in our memory into something more cogent and realise that there are swaths missing. Before we do that it doesn’t matter that it’s piecemeal, but after, when you’ve tried to assemble the past, it’s what really matters.
And it’s not always the grand assembling that matters, sometimes it’s more banal, like someone saying “Hi Regan” as I’m walking and I can’t recall their name fast enough to say “Hello (blank).” A littler sort of thing that buzzes around in my head, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep.
Of course you can see this at any point in your life, but I’ve been noticing it a lot lately because reflection seems like what I should be doing, considering that I’m graduating in a couple months.
This new hobby has been rather uncomfortable for me, because of just how much detail is missing. I’ve always thought I had a pretty good memory, but lately most everything from my time at Stanford seems like a late Turner painting — think edges so soft you may not be able to tell what’s what. And it scares me a little bit that there aren’t too many sharp edges to grab onto.
What’s nice about this ambiguity is that I’m able to form pretty much anything I like out of it, which is much simpler when the past seems to be clay rather than marble.
I think part of this malleability is because my time at Stanford has been focused on becoming someone, rather than being someone right now. The irony of this isn’t lost on me, because your vision for the future can’t be too set either; it’s never possible to predict exactly what consequences each little thing will have.
But for me that’s been what’s most valuable about Stanford: the ability to be comfortable when I’m living with ambiguity in myself and my place in the world.
Contact Regan Pecjak at reganp ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This piece is part of the Vol. 253 Editorial Board’s Admit Weekend series. Read the rest of the editorials here.