How do you define your life?

This past weekend, a couple of moments I witnessed on Bay State Road and around the Boston University campus made me really think.

I saw the graduating Class of 2020 — who came back for their postponed commencement ceremony — donning scarlet graduation robes. Proud families captured pictures of their graduates in front of their old dorms or the middle of the street. One group of friends even sprayed a bottle of celebratory champagne, their shrieks of laughter echoing the streets.

Seeing the gowns brought a smile to my face. It’s nice to know that the ones who didn’t get a proper closure to a chapter in their lives were able to come back and get it — even if more than a year later.

The Boston skyline. Lifestyle Editor Katrina writes of graduation robes, tour groups and her thermos of coffee to frame her mindset on how she attempts to define her life. KRISHNA SHARMA/ DFP FILE

In contrast, I also saw multiple tour groups walking around filled with possible future BU students trying to get a sliver of a feeling about what it’s like to be on Commonwealth Avenue. Some of those kids likely realized during the tour that this wasn’t the place for them. But I also know some felt right at home and could picture themselves here — as I did three years ago. 

And then there was me, a thermos of coffee in my hand and backpack on my back, going to the Pickering Educational Resources Library to try and get some work done. 

These three distinct images got me thinking about time and how it seems to pass without us truly being able to realize and process it. For example, I distinctly remember how I felt when I went on one of those aforementioned tours, but I also feel like it was a lifetime ago. 

I’m at a crossroads between feeling like I’m running out of time while also feeling like I have so much more life to live. It’s a weird push and pull to try to decipher. I’ve also accepted that you can’t decipher a lot of feelings in life. I always think that I’ve experienced many of the common feelings — grief, joy, pride and anger, among others — and then realize every single experience brings a different facet of a feeling. All of those feelings always have more to them than what you think.

I always thought if I held onto the moments occurring presently, then there wouldn’t be a wasted second. What I failed to realize is even if you’re focusing on a moment that’s occurring right now, you still miss things. And when you look back on them, you either find some of those things you missed at the time or it becomes a blur — a contour of your life that you can’t ever single out again.

I have the amazing opportunity to study in London in the Spring semester, and I’m trying to approach it as casually as possible. At the same time, I’m trying to step back and realize that studying abroad is something I’ve talked about doing ever since I knew what it was.

As I’m renewing my passport and talking with friends and family about it, I wonder what 13-year-old me would think. The idea of studying in another country used to seem so far away, and now it’s within mere months of happening. 

As I was coming back to my dorm from the library, there were still some graduates walking around and remnants of champagne on the sidewalk. I promptly called my mother and cried for 10 minutes feeling overwhelmed with emotions I couldn’t quite place. 

Around half an hour later, my aunt randomly sent me a picture taken in 2016 at my cousin’s wedding. I stared at my 15-year-old self who was smiling into the camera with no thought other than to smile. It was one of those smiles that was pure and free. 

And then I thought of all my extended family, who I haven’t seen since 2018. I thought of my dad, who I haven’t seen since March 2020 because he works in China and hasn’t been able to come home. 

I thought of how much of their lives I’m missing out on, but the things I remember about them that will always hold true. 

Is this what getting older feels like? Constantly feeling like life is slipping through your fingertips and you can’t stop it? Or not knowing if you even want to stop it or speed it up?

Perhaps life can’t be defined clearly by a succinct feeling, milestone or moment. Perhaps life can never be truly defined. Perhaps it’s just a mix of celebratory champagne, wide-eyed wonder, feeling like you’re running out of time, carefree smiles, crying spontaneously and trying to grapple with the fact that no matter what, life just goes on.

Even though we go through our whole lives trying to define it in our own way, perhaps the most dazzling thing about life is that, simply, we can’t.

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