March 18, 2021 | Narrative
outside the calendar squares
finding meaning in little moments
Ever since I got to college, I’ve been making myself coffee every morning. Aside from the fact that I’m not a morning person and I need the caffeine to force my brain to take in the content of my 8:30 a.m. lecture, I’ve grown attached to the daily 10-minute ritual. There’s something grounding to it: waiting for the water to boil, measuring out the coffee grounds, watching the water spiral its way from the pour-over into my navy mug. A splash of cream, a little bit of sugar. Look, Liza, you’ve made something.
Even on a busy day, this tradition always holds a moment of peace, a pocket of calm. Sometimes, the promise of coffee is the only thing that can get me out of bed. No matter what else I have to do or who I need to talk to on any given day, coffee comes first. It’s a daily gift I give to myself: something small just for me, sharing the fragile morning stillness with the chirping birds perched on the branches outside my window.
The first time it snows, I rush outside, abandoning my readings for the flurries of bouncing snowflakes calling my name. I walk down the quickly-whitening streets with a sense of wonder, a child-like amazement at witnessing the world transform itself. The sky paints the rooftops with its expert hand, lines tree branches with icing, paves sidewalks that crunch like popcorn under my feet, and turns College Hill into a slippery obstacle course. Despite the thick clouds hiding the shy morning light, everything seems to brighten, as if lit up by winter’s smile. It feels like a pre-packaged miracle, a secret world I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon.
My footsteps leave marks along the street, but they’re filled in immediately. I draw a line with my finger along the sidewalk, then watch it fade away. When I try to snap some photos, my phone shuts down, unable to resist the cold. This is a world not meant to be captured. Later, I’ll text my friends from home, tell them how fascinating snow is, how it bounces through the air instead of falling straight down, how it feels cool and dry, how it doesn’t soak through your clothes the way rain does. “Are you jealous?” I’ll ask them. “You should be jealous.”
But for now, I’m left alone with the frosty air: winter breathing me in, painting me with its icy touch, lining my eyelashes with glittering snowflakes, laughing as it melts away my mascara. Like the branches and rooftops, I’m another figure in this snowy scene.
Outside the OMAC, children are attacking each other with snowballs, engulfed in a full-on, ruthless war during their lunch break. I look on with concern as one kid falls over and just lies in the snow until, a few minutes later, she jumps back up and joins the fray again, unscathed by her recent downfall. As I walk down the block, I pack some of the snow together and throw it into a bush. I smile to myself, feeling five years old again.
Further down the street, a kid, barely two feet tall, packaged from head to toe in puffy winter gear, builds a snowman. The creation is exactly his height, and it’s clearly taking a lot of concentration to assemble. As he attaches the finishing touch—a carrot nose (clearly, he’s come prepared)—his father lines the pair up to take a photo. The kid and the snowman look strangely alike, both round and wobbly on the snowy landscape, both looking well-pleased with themselves.
The next day, when I walk past the yard, the child is nowhere to be found, but the mini snowman beams at me—a cheerful mark the child is already learning to leave on the world.
“Us California kids missed out on a childhood,” I joke. I make a mental note to go build a snowman the next time I get the chance.
On sunny afternoons, I join what seems like the entire school in piling onto the main green. It feels like we’re waking up from a long stretch of hibernation, emerging from our dorm rooms into spring’s welcoming arms. Studying there, lying on the cheerful green grass with wind-tossed trees shaking their branches overhead, people around me laughing and playing frisbee and spike ball, I feel like a college student for the first time. (Apparently, the heads I see floating in Zoom squares actually have bodies attached?) For a minute, I let myself get distracted from my work, people-watching and listening in on the snippets of conversation bubbling around me. I laugh at the fact that we look like an image out of a college admissions brochure, if those photos had been taken in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ve fallen in love with the Providence River. It’s become my favorite weekend pastime to walk along its length—turning right from the bridge and tracing a footpath down by the water, over a fallen-down fence, through a park, and past abandoned docks until I’m reluctantly convinced to turn back by the receding sun. Cup of coffee in hand, I watch the ducks paddle along and the reflections of buildings bob up and down. The river slices a sense of calm through the city, whether glittering with the late-afternoon almost-springtime sun or frozen over by the winter chill.
This path is far enough away from campus that the people I run into, for the most part, aren’t students. I walk past an elderly couple holding hands, a child tossing rocks into the water, a man huddled in his sweatshirt, walking a dog that keeps slipping in the snow. It’s a good reminder that there’s a world beyond college—beyond classes and assignments and students and the pressure to pack a lifetime into four years. The people around me have their own lives, their own thoughts and dreams and worries, far different from my own at 19.
And the river, flowing on day after day past these people and their bustling thoughts, has no concerns at all.
The sun sets like a flaming orange plate rolling down the hill. I’ve always assumed West Coast sunsets must be prettier (doesn’t the sun set in the West?), but the first time I walk to Andrews for dinner, I’m confronted with a vibrant pink sky that tells me otherwise. I turn down the hill for a while, away from my destination, trying to catch the sun. It escapes me and my phone camera, rolls away behind the skyline, and leaves watercolor clouds to remind me of its brightness. All around me, people are going about their business—driving home from work, walking their dogs, getting their dinners—as I stand, frozen in my tracks, watching the stain left behind where the sun used to be.
A few years ago, I started texting my friends’ group chat every time there was a pretty sunset. They probably found it vaguely annoying, but I wanted to share this simple beauty, a reminder of the magic of the world. This sunset, though, I kept to myself—a little scrapbook moment to keep filed away in the corner of my mind. No matter how stressed out I get or how many papers I have due, there will always be sunsets. Day after day, the sky will explode in bright pinks and oranges, waving a cheery goodbye before the soft cover of darkness lures the world to sleep.