This article was adapted from “How Michigan taught me to live” in the March 16, 2020, issue of The Michigan Daily.
My feet were up on the dashboard of the passenger seat in my roommate Kevin’s car as we returned for senior year. We were somewhere in rural Ohio, a few hours from a return to Ann Arbor for a time that was supposed to be unencumbered by worry.
I pulled out my phone, scrolled through Twitter, and came across an article on the University of Missouri website by Wright Thompson, one of the greatest writers on this planet. As I was reading through the piece, I came across a line that blew me away.
I read it once. Paused. Took a breath. Looked up. Then I read it a few more times: “Sometimes it feels like we spend 45 percent of our lives trying to be something, 10 percent of our lives being it and 45 percent having been it.”
I think about the prescience of reading that during my trip back up to Ann Arbor. I think about the call to action that phrase makes: to live deliberately but conscientiously, to strive for more but appreciate what’s right there, to allow a healthy dose of nostalgia without letting it consume you, to appreciate who you are instead of obsessing over who — or what — you’d like to be.
Thinking back to that moment now, there is a cruel irony in how everything has unfolded.
Our final moments of college life were ripped away from us due to the coronavirus outbreak: our last stretch of classes, our final months with friends, our social gatherings, and our graduation — all gone.
Tears have welled up in my eyes as I write this. I don’t know which of my friends I’ve possibly seen for the last time. My family doesn’t get to come to the Big House and take pictures with me in my cap and gown. Instead of triumph, the best four years of my life are ending with a premature departure from a deserted campus, as I abide by an encouraged evacuation of a place I will always call home.
I didn’t know I had anxiety until I came to college. I was dumped into a pool of 40,000 people and was told to swim, and for a while I merely treaded water. I know I’m not alone in that — if anything, that made my experience quite consistent with most of the student body.
I suppose that discomfort teaches you how to find yourself. That’s the only way to discover who you are. We must venture into that big, bold unknown to emerge a more complete person.
These clichés are both true and supremely unhelpful for a lonely freshman searching for purpose. We’re told this romantic tale about what college was supposed to be, and so I grew increasingly frustrated by my personal stagnation. My brain flooded with thoughts and doubts and confusion, and that began to cripple me.
I came to the University knowing one person on campus, and even he was relatively new to my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to study or what I wanted to become. Having grown up in small, tight-knit communities all my life, I secretly harbored fears that I wouldn’t cut it outside those bubbles. I joined a fraternity to quell some of the lurking social anxiety, but I worried that Greek life would change who I was. I missed home. I quietly longed for the comforts of what I knew.
It feels peculiar, then, to be writing this while completely heartbroken that, three and a half years later, it’s over. Just like that, it’s over. The people, the places, the city that made this the best four years of my life — all of it is past tense in the narrative of my life.
Nostalgia is healthy. But, man, I just wasn’t ready for it yet.
Thompson’s words pierced me on that drive. They still do. I worry that as my peers and I strive for high-achieving lives, we miss the forest for the trees.
We miss the days we spent hanging out on the couch watching “The Bachelor” over a few beers. We miss the evenings in the library spent cracking jokes instead of studying. We miss the nights spent at The Daily, talking about life and U-M sports and everything and nothing at all. We lose track of how many games of euchre we’d played and pretended to bemoan waking up early for our 8:30 a.m. classes the next day, as if we weren’t eager to do the same thing the very next night.
Meanwhile, we strain over internships and jobs. We complain about drama with friends. We bitch and moan and stress. Anything to get the grade. Anything to keep moving in a direction we’re told is “forward.” We get so bogged down in the stressors of a life we know to be brutally unpredictable.
Nothing is a better reminder of that fragility of life’s plans than a global pandemic, upending our daily lives and threatening our health.
I don’t want to spend 45% of my life trying to be something and the other 45% having been something. But in order to spend 100% of our lives being ourselves, we have to become comfortable with the imperfections and incongruities life will bring. We have to dare to live optimistically and without fear. In this long journey of life, we have to find the beauty in the ordinary.
I wish I could say I felt ready.
Max Marcovitch worked at The Michigan Daily from his first week on campus to his last, mostly covering and editing sports. He hopes to never stop writing.