1 in 900: Feels like yesterday

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Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2020

Do you remember how we used to carry our lunch boxes to school? A bunch of ten-year-olds showing off the design of their package whilst concealing the nervous pit in their stomachs about the game that was about to ensue. When it comes to school lunches, there are two teams: the home team, which comprised Nutella sandwiches, M&Ms, chocolates, caramelized goodies, gummy bears, marshmallows and those huge lollipops that we ate just to reach the bubble gum — and the away team, which consisted of a healthier menu: dried fruits, tomato and cheese sandwiches, broccoli and a ton of healthy snacks that nauseated most of the kids who dreamt of juicy hamburgers and crunchy fries. 

All of these thoughts visited my mind as I walked through the front door of Stern Dining for the first time. Tap your card to open the door. Tap your card to enter the food court. “Come closer,” the device voiceover said seven times before bursting out “temperature is normal” with a bright green, blinding flash of validation. Wash your hands while singing “Happy Birthday” twice — that equals twenty seconds. And then came the stack of brown bags and the never-ending food labyrinth … For a few seconds, it felt as if I was pivoting on the world map, jumping from country to country, scenting the aromas of far-off lands. Then, I realize that I am passing by a buffet, my heart fastened in a seatbelt to survive this mouthwatering maze. As soon as I finished packing, I suddenly found myself seated on the grass surrounded by familiar faces and heartfelt smiles that reached my heart but not my eyes, for the masks played their part perfectly.

I pictured myself in third grade again, sharing a meal with my childhood friends and feeling the moisture of the grass under my hands. Except, eight years ago, our lunches consisted of different discussions: inventing lives for our Barbies and feeding our baby dolls, of wishing to grow up and become professional ballerinas, Disney princesses or traveling to an even a cooler version of Narnia, of getting our ice cream scoop if we finished our work early and an extra treat if we were nice. However, here we are, eight years later, architecting our own lives with the leftovers of our Barbie fantasies, learning how to arabesque our way into the real world and untie our ballerina shoes. Eight years later, we fear to look ourselves in the eye and annul our princess aspirations, entering adulthood with the tiara of knowledge while trying to fit into the perfect dress, the idea of a perfect student, perfect citizen, perfect daughter, perfect friend. Eight years later, we find ourselves staring at swings, sand and slides, nostalgic for the times we couldn’t spell perfection.

This is the beauty of Wilbur Field. You sit with your friends as the sun says “see you tomorrow.” You eat your hot meal as you converse about the unpredictable turns of the collegiate roller coaster that stops at the very top before resuming.  The little knee bruise you hide from your bike crash. The word you use over and over again: “undecided,” the heading of your chapter three. “Undecided” tricked us into believing in perfection — that things could one day be decided — when perfection is only an artifact of the mind and reality is just a maze of unpredictability. As we listened to each other’s dreams, we closed our eyes to sense them, perhaps grasp them and live through them. But as we opened our eyes, we realized that the dream is now, on a Thursday night, on the humid grass, in the college that never wakes, in the land that never lives. In the land that keeps on dreaming, to transform dreams into a living. We were asleep while being fully awake. The alarm wouldn’t ring, for it was not time to wake up. At least, not for now.

Contact Tiffany Saade at tiff24 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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