Take a break from yourself
Living my student’s life
I was walking today, after a long morning of study. I was not alone, but suddenly it was as if I were. In my head I was still thinking about the notes written during my history lesson, which had taken me the whole morning, subtracting me to a magnificent sunny day. In the meantime, I was trying to listen to the conversation my friends were having.
We were walking towards the bus stop, in the crowd of the early afternoon. Indeed, in a university city like mine, always full of young people, students gather at lunchtime in every corner of the city centre, sitting on the steps of the sidewalks, the theater, the churches, with their packed lunch prepared in the hurry of early mornings. Smiling faces, a bit tired, but content to be able to share a sunny corner of one early March afternoon, before returning to the dark of the library, the spooky silence and the long boring hours of religious study.
As I walked through those medieval streets, full of culture but modernised by XXI century young people, unaware of the centuries of history they were sitting on, I realized for the first time what it meant to be a university student or better, what it implied to be there. I figured out what it meant to be young, fully capable of living my 20 years with the whole future ahead of me. That’s because I started looking at the moltitude of people’s faces around my small group of friends, picking up pieces of their conversations or observing them in their actions. I came out of my head, out of my thoughts, which had already become a confused vortex, and I realized that I was living. I understood I was actually occupying a space, my space, that no one else could have filled at that moment.
So today I would like to tell you what I observed that day, or at least what I reflected about, with the hope of making you realise how complex the external world can be, or simply with the intention of describing by beloved city to you. Can we move away for a moment from ourselves?
At the corner, in front of the bar
A man was sitting at a table in the corner, under the porches. He had long beard and long grey hair up, making it impossible to define his age. Dressed simply, with a short-sleeved T-shirt to welcome the spring sun and drive out the winter, he was looking at the passers-by in front and behind him. He was observing the students leaving the faculty, running to buy something to eat, greeting their friends. Near him, on the coffee table, stood a pile of yellowed and second-hand books, the type of books that can only be bought at flea markets. Volumes read and read again several times, with their own story, apart from the one they tell.
From several pages, bookmarks or pens appeared, as if in a single moment, that man had read them all and then left them all hanging together, abandoning everything on the table. A half smile appreared on his face; he seemed not to care about his readings anymore. He was simply looking at people, almost with a keen scholar’s attention in the midst of a sociology research.
I didn’t get a chance to read the titles of his books or to understand more who he was, but I could have sworn it was one of those professors who love studying and enjoy being in the midst of people so deeply that even after getting their place at the university continue to be students, marveling at everything and with the immense will to learn. I would also have sworn that he was part of a humanistic faculty, probably artistic, just for the curiosity that he was showing in observing people repeating the most common actions.
In a row before the Sicilian shop
Not far from my bus stop, there is a shop whose specialties are sandwiches and desserts from Sicily. Obviously, never forgetting the goodness of the southern food, at lunchtime the row crowding the entrance is endless.
I was therefore walking in that direction, with the intention of avoiding the many students and continuing on my path, when I unwittingly listened to fragments of a conversation between two girls. Of course I don’t remember the exact words, nor I want to transcribe them, but it’s the topic that struck me: the fear towards the exams of the spring session.
The two girls were very close to each other, dressed elegantly in trousers, jacket and coat, cell phone and wallet in hand and nothing else: probably two of the many students who at lunchtime leave their notebook on the table of the library, to keep the place occupied, then buy something to eat on the the go and finally return to their work. They were smiling, hiding the fear that flowed from their words behind a joke, telling each other how many pages to study they still lacked and the little concentration that had been oppressing them for days.
Well, what struck me most about this trivial conversation was the fact that I was experiencing the same emotions too, due to the slow and inexorable approach of my exams. However, at the same time, I realised that who knows how many before us had done it. Of course, the subject always changes, as well as the type of examination or the faculty, but in the end we are all the same. We focus so much on our fears, forgetting how normal these are and that, in the end, they are perfectly surmountable. It is all part of the story, of the set of events people lived and lived again before we came to occupy our place in the world. In the end, in those streets, I constantly meet many unknown students. Hower, at that moment, I felt like I was a friend of everyone, able to understand them all. I imagined myself as a small part of a much larger whole.
Next to the column
A little further on, continuing my walk, a girl was eating alone, standing, leaning against a column. The curly hair, collected with a hair clip that still allowed a few tufts to drop on on her face, framed her features; her look was restless. From the pocket of her jacket I could see her cell phone, which perhaps she wanted so badly to grab to be able to scroll Instagram and kill time, but her hands were busy supporting her lunch box of pasta and her fork.
I did not have a chance to observe her for long, nor I wanted to make her more uncomfortable, but at that moment I really would have liked to tell her how much I was seeing myself in her. Indeed, in my eyes, that girl suddenly looked like me. All of a sudden, it was like seeing myself from the outside, going back in time, to the many occasions I felt alone among people, waiting for friends or just waiting to occupy my time in an activity that did not require the presence of other people.
I do not consider these moments something sad. Indeed, I consider the loneliness that sometimes awaits us as a necessary, inevitable companion in our journey. We need to be able to accept her and feel good and content anyway. Many times I have imagined college years as the most beautiful ones in my life, full of lightheartedness and friendships. And so it is. However, at the same time, they are also the years of profound solitude. In other words, it is the period in which you understand that life is in your hands and only in yours. You get the chance to realise that no one from there on can decide for you. Briefly, I figured out that studying alone in the library for my own exams was just a metaphor of the challenges that life will inevitably force me to face alone.
Many, many other people crowded the squares. I could have spent my whole whole life imagining theirs. But yes, if you’re wondering, I finally stopped looking around and went to catch the bus. I was also late.
I am an Italian student who tries every day to improve her English. I really like writing and studying in this language, also to be able to reach more people. However, I still often run into mistakes. So, if while reading my article you have found some, do not hesitate to contact me, either though a comment or private note!