As the clock inched towards midnight and the new year, I watched little snow flurries falling outside the window, while my friends lied comfortably in their beds fast asleep. I was left alone with my thoughts. I thought about how precious time has become. In 2017, graduation felt like it would never come. This year, graduation feels imminent. Three years feel like a vague, ungraspable shape, but two years — the mind can somehow comprehend its length. As a sophomore, by the end of 2019, I’ll be a senior; a few months after, a college graduate.
Shuffling between Philadelphia and my home country of Singapore, my life has suddenly become marked by flights, departures and arrivals, scheduled and printed in military time. When I am in Philadelphia, I feel an ominous countdown timer ticking in the background. I live here in full knowledge that in two years, everything will come to a close, and there will be many farewells and goodbyes. Life here feels so rich and full, in all shades and colors, that it is so hard to comprehend that one day this will be the black-and-white reel of the “past.”
One day, the density of friendships, social circles, and activities here, which often folds upon itself, overlapping and intertwining, will radically unravel on a fateful “Commencement Day.” One day not too far away, I will pack my life here into bursting suitcases and bulging boxes and ship them back home to Singapore; my room will stand empty, without a photograph stuck to its cold white walls, or a sock lying in a corner. One day not too far away, Locust Walk, which I trek up and down every day in mundane familiarity, will become a path of memories I can only trace in my mind. One day too, this column will be retired, no longer updated with new ramblings — just another blip in the digital abyss.
Yet, when I am home in Singapore, I feel like there is no other place I would rather be. I indulge in its familiar sights and sounds. The humidity no longer feels like a curse, but a dear blanket wrapping its loving arms around me. The rain feels different, its pattering on the windows is a lullaby humming me to sleep. Home is where food “miraculously” appears on the table, and fresh clothes by my cupboard.
However, the minute I arrive in Singapore, I understand that there also is a countdown timer lurking in the background. I know exactly how many days and weeks I have before saying goodbye again and flying the 22 hours back to Philadelphia. Each time I go home for break, there is also a piercing sadness, knowing that as I am growing up in Philadelphia, people at home are growing old too. Suddenly, you realize your grandmother is walking a little slower; your sister is also in college; there is a little more gray in your parents’ hair.
Sometimes I get confused. When I am consumed by the opportunities and enjoying myself so much here in Philadelphia, I feel a tinge of guilt, having all this fun away from my family. Likewise, sometimes when I get so comfortable back home in Singapore during the breaks and become reluctant to leave, I feel guilty. Is this reluctance to leave home and come back to Philadelphia a sign that I have perhaps not treasured my education here enough?
Upon that snowy New Year’s night, in the stillness and quiet of the room, I came to a certain peace with the rhythm of life now. Life before Penn, in Singapore, days felt like it would stretch into an amorphous future; months and years blended into each other with a blessed comfort and familiarity. However, beginnings and endings are now counted in weeks and months — graspable, always within sight, looming around the corner. Time has become short and achingly precious everywhere. I learn to be thankful wherever I am, and try to hold on to each moment a little longer.
SARA MERICAN is a College sophomore from Singapore, studying English and cinema studies. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Merican in America” usually appears every other Thursday.
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