Recently I was in physical therapy, working on an old sprain before my Duke health insurance expires. First my PT told me I’ve probably been walking wrong my whole life (my feet and ankles want to point in towards one another, collapse). Then she said, on the importance of detangling my hip flexors: Your muscles make a long chain, and each one adds something to help you move. In other words, nothing gets wasted in your body. Also, I need to stop slouching so much when I sit.
I’ve been trying to go slower, lately. I head up from the Gardens and see sun shattering through the redbuds; I sit on second-floor Wellness to hear the piano play. When I got to Duke I was eighteen and full of fear and certainty. (I was scared of sleeping through 8:30s. I was definitely going to be a lawyer.) Now I have little certainty, and my fear has probably grown.
I don’t know what I’ll take with me from my years here. There’s been some very lovely times—jazz vespers at the Chapel, formals and semi-formals, holding hands on a swinging bench, black koi swirly in their pond. I learned how to read literature, fly a lantern, conduct an a cappella group. And around and through all this, difficulty, silence, the long hand of a hot disorderly future settling on my ribs.
I am thinking about my junior fall, working all day or losing the hours completely; junior spring, when my digestion quit working, from strain or COVID, to a degree I’m just now realizing. I am thinking of my senior fall, when I’d order takeout under my mom’s name, since I dissociated so much hers felt as close as mine. I am thinking of my dead classmates, and my friends with dead family and everyone I was scared about.
I decorate the time with meaning. I laugh in a job interview: Yes, I was able to read more in 2020. Yes I got into bicycles, yes I made whipped coffee while people died. And suddenly I am 21 and the sunlight on the front patio is scalding.
One of my friends is becoming a Buddhist monk. I told him I was writing this column and had no ideas for what to say. After a beat, he texted back, “Any message of love?”
Very many, actually, as far as life tracks out in all directions. I’ll try to go light on advice The Chronicle’s obliged to print, but I will say it helps to do something that makes me feel competent every day—lately this has been risottos, cutting hair, tweaking my handlebars myself. Also, if you are a sophomore and tired of WU, Law School café is great for a change of pace.
The other thing I wanted to tell you is that there actually isn’t anything wrong with you, anybody reading this. It’s been a blessing for me to edit this section of The Chronicle, because this is one forum where our thoughtful classmates can opt to reveal themselves in writing. The columns I’ve read this year have reinforced for me that everyone feels grief, everyone gets stressed, everyone is as scared of having a job or graduating as I am. And still that doesn’t mean that I ought to retract from the world to avoid experiencing risk. So I would say, just take it easy when you can, stand out in the sun and do get organized.
I’m coming back around to the physical therapy metaphor, sorry to leave you hanging. I still wonder about some of the turns life has taken in the past four years—maybe I’m more tired, more comfortable in my own company. There were days or weeks here, even months or semesters, that feel to me like dead time. But I do think it’s true that nothing gets wasted.
Just as I’m gentle on my knee so my knee supports my hip, I can maintain, as life continues, that all my seasons may count for me sometime. And even if you think I’m sanding down or effacing pain, I hope you’ll affirm that possibility in yourself.
The goal outcome in PT is usually strength, and an improved range of motion. To extend my comparison one final step, I’ll say I wish for you a greater range of feeling—sorrow, joy, heat and cold, flavor, sweet darkness like the curve around the moon. There’s a poem from Rilke’s “Book of Hours” that says this better than me:
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Just keep going, as best as you can feel it. With admiration for everything you are,
Margot Armbruster is a Trinity senior and served as Opinion editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.
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Margot Armbruster is a Trinity senior and opinion editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.