The significance of a year
This past Saturday was the one-year mark of the day I flew home from campus. At that point, we still thought we would be back after an extended spring break. I took a socially distanced, masked walk with the last person I said goodbye to one year prior, and I couldn’t even decide whether it was a big deal or not.
There are those who disagree with the concept of celebrating annual landmarks, since a year could be considered a social construct. The passing of each birthday is just a reminder that we’ve inched closer to death, and barely anyone is able to follow through with their New Year’s resolutions since there’s no intrinsic motivation to do so.
But scientifically speaking, in some sense, it’s a reminder that even though we’ve traveled one circumference around the sun, we’re back in the same place. Distance versus displacement, if you will. And because I’m a sentimental hopeless romantic, that can bring a lot of emotions: surprise at discovering that I’ve changed as a human being, nostalgia for all the memories that could have been made, hope for a better year this time around.
So, is one year significant? Half of me wants to commemorate the craziest yet most isolating year of my life thus far, but the other half argues that the 365th day is just the one between the 364th and the 366th. You could argue that reaching a critical mass of vaccinations or being able to resume normal life is a better measure of time worth celebrating. But then again, we have no idea when that will be, and as humans, it’s more intuitive to think about a concrete date.
Last weekend, the MIT Pre-Medical Society held a panel with some alums, and one of the panelists said that a question they weren’t prepared to answer was, “How have you changed in the past year?” It caused us all to pause for a second and consider if we had really experienced any growth since moving off campus last March.
One of the more significant changes this past year was that I all but stopped journaling, something I used to do every weekend since orientation to make sure I didn’t forget the minute details of how beautiful college life was. It just didn’t seem like there was anything exciting to tell future me. But I’m realizing how sparse the year is going to look when I read back through the pages in 20, 30, or 50 years. The longest year ever will ironically be the shortest in memory.
It feels that way, too. I’m not sure if fewer things happened since everyone was spread out across the world, or if I just blocked out a few months from my memory. From the entire fall semester, all I remember is getting permission to drive the 30 miles to my old roommate’s house and dropping off some gifts at her front door.
But just because it was miserable doesn’t mean it was without redeeming moments. I, along with a lot of my peers and the rest of the country, first stepped into some sort of awareness and activism. I was also able to spend time at home with my mother and recalibrate my relationship with her as an adult instead of as a dependent. As a scientific community, we made incredible advancements in understanding SARS-CoV-2 and creating multiple effective vaccines.
With my second COVID-era birthday coming up, I’m trying to look back on the past 525,600 minutes with absolutely no desire to go back and just enough gratitude for all I’ve learned. The grace that my friends, family, professors, and everyone else has shown me was truly unparalleled. Taking a page from Rent’s book, maybe we should measure the past year with love. Love received, given, and shared, despite all that we’ve been through together.