Sometimes I feel like I can’t see what’s right in front of me. I don’t mean this metaphorically; I really can’t see what’s right in front of me. Three years ago, my optometrist told me that my vision sucked, and I would need glasses. I told him no. While plenty of people transform into sexy librarian-esque models when they put on a pair of spectacles, I am unfortunately not one of those people. I allowed my vanity get the best of me and told this to my optometrist, and while there was definitely some subtle judging going on, he ended up prescribing contacts instead.
Putting in contacts, though, is basically mild torture. It’s a grueling ordeal, especially when my ocular fluid decided to reject the object infiltrating its barrier. So most of the time I don’t even wear them and simply wander the world aimlessly. To clarify, my eyesight isn’t horribly atrocious, and I still exist with relative success. I even drive without my contacts! I just can’t make out faces or specific details.
There’s something thrilling about not being able to see 10 feet in front of me. It keeps life exciting, and it leads to some awkward one-on-one interactions. Our campus is not that large, so I’ll usually run into at least one person I recognize at any given time. However, I’m not always sure if our relationship is at that level yet where we can acknowledge each other’s existence in public. Sometimes, I’m unaware if I know them at all.
It plays out like this: I’m walking to the Bryan Center for my daily Red Mango fix. Out of my peripherals, I spot someone in the distance that I may or may not be socially obligated to acknowledge. They’re walking towards me, but I can’t make out their face so I stare intensely, eyes squinted and neck strained, trying to determine their identity. As they approach, they catch me staring and stare back. I don’t want to appear creepy, so I smile at them while I continue my staring. It’s the Russian roulette of uncomfortable social situations. Do I actually know this person? Or are they going to think I’m violating them with my eyes? Finally, my vision prevails and I either smile hello or cower my head in shame.
People I don’t know tend to have a problem when they see me staring, but they seem to be even more baffled if I accidentally greet them, as if I’ve broken some sort of unspoken rule of not associating with people I don’t already associate with. And this definitely happens a lot more now than at the beginning of the semester.
Now that we’re a little over a month into the school year, most freshmen have either settled into their respective social circles or accepted that it really doesn’t get better after high school. It can be easy to settle into these cliques, but the friend-making process shouldn’t end once you find people to regularly eat with at The Marketplace. The search for human connection and interpersonal relationships is an extended, ever-developing process. While current relationships should continue to prosper, they shouldn’t be a means to an end.
Whether it’s earning A’s, getting into med school or hooking up in the gardens, Duke student are adept at working towards tangible marks of achievement and widely recognized success. But relationships are rarely addressed with the same fervor. Perhaps it’s because “my friendships have profoundly impacted me” isn’t something that goes on a resume or an application for grad school. For whatever reason, we tend to disregard the value of relationships.
But we can’t overlook the intrinsic benefit and personal development meaningful relationships bring about. Here at Duke you will meet both the best and the worst; people who will challenge you, empower you, break you and ultimately shape who you are as a person as well as your perception of the world. And that is something that will stay with you long after you leave this campus. People matter, and I think sometimes we all lose sight of that. You can’t be friends with everyone, and you certainly shouldn’t give an awkwardly grandiose hello to every person that passes by. But whether you’re a freshmen or upperclassmen, the chance to meet new people and be a smiling face amongst a sea of disgruntled students heading to midterms is one that should not be passed up.
So if we know each other but I don’t say hi; don’t worry, it’s not because you’re not popular. I probably forgot my contacts and couldn’t distinguish your facial features. And if we don’t know each other but I still say hi, then simply smile back instead of staring at me as if I’m unfit for polite society. I probably forgot my contacts, and I’ll feel less like a fool if the greeting is reciprocated. And this applies for anyone. Be friendly, be kind and be open, because you never know if the next new person you meet will end up being the person that changes your life.
Michelle Menchaca is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday.