These past few weeks I’ve been back living with my family whilst University was shut for easter. Tomorrow (in exactly 12 hours) I’ll be catching a ride back down to Olde Canterbury to wrap up the last, this-time-much shorter term of my first year reading History at the University of Kent.
Having been back for a few weeks I’ve had ample time to think over my two lives – that of the eldest son living at home with siblings and parents in middle-class suburbia and that of the young, fun-seeking university student living on his own in a city full of friends. I acknowledge the comfort and convinience of living in a house where food is ample, leisure is less of a dent in the budget and most commodities are handled by people other than myself but, when I think of the marked difference in my mood here and at university I can safely say I’ve already mentally flown the coop if not yet physically.
Living at home subjects me to less emotional personal space than at university . Also, being family and not housemates, I am more emotionally invested in the behaviour of people at home. Thus I find my mood to be much more affected by outside influences at home than at university and, accordingly, I am much easier put in a foul mood at home than I think is even possible in Kent. The annoying habits of my family cling to me and frustrate me more than the most annoying habits of my most annoying friends ever could. Having experienced the intellectual and emotional maturity of (some, not all) university students it feels like I’ve been hobbled or regressed to return to the bickering of younger siblings or the arguments of family members.
Living in my little room in the University of Kent I was ablaze with motivation. I began and kept up the practice of writing down each night five things I wished to have accomplished by the same time the following night. Not only that – I put myself to learn a new, interesting word and a new, interesting historical fact each day and for several weeks I kept to this little self-sustaining schedule and became such a productive taskforce that I finished all my essays a week before they were due and spent the final seven days of the term relaxing with friends and enjoying life rather than fixating on words on a screen. I was learning and doing and self-improving almost every day. I picked up a copy of Journey to the Centre of the Earth and read it just because I felt I ought to. In terms of my capacity to improve myself and expand my horizons I felt limitless.
But there is a downside to university – to all universities – and that is the passing of an era. It occured to me then and now that there were so many of my classmates at my leavers’ prom or on results day whom I would very likely never see again. Moreso than that – many of my closest friends have moved to other universities across the British Isles and I see them so little now as compared to before in our schooldays. I have friends in university, true, but there’s nothing to compare to old childhood friends.
I look now at a picture on my wall. It is of the Pleiades – a cluster of stars hanging in space so very, very far away from us. They burn a bright blue, such is their heat, and it brings to mind a certain physical phenomenon that has long-fascinated me. It is called Blueshift. The idea is that as objects moving towards us at incredibly fast speeds, near the speed of light, the light between us and them begins to become bluer and bluer in colour. The opposite of this is Redshift, where things moving away from us get redder and redder. When we see those wonderful pictures of galaxies and nebula and we see the red and blue colours we can see those that are moving away from us and those that are moving towards us.
The reason I mention this is because it was the first metaphor I thought to use when attempting to explain this sensation of “drifting apart” I notice between myself and former schoolmates. Not my friends, of course, but classmates. At school we were not close by any stretch but we knew each others names and would greet each other in passing. In these weeks I’ve been home I’ve walked past quite a few of my former classmate and we’ve either not acknowledged each other or smiled nervously in a horrid state of not being close enough to even warrant a friendly “hello” anymore but not far enough to warrant ignoring. It was a bizarre moment. I feel when I look at these people I see them as redshifted – moving further and further away from me with each passing moment and with nothing to stop the motion. It does not sadden me, for they were never my friends, but I think it odd that in a few years I will remember so few of their names and maybe I will have forgotten a face or two. I was never the best with names in the first place – I dread to think how few I will remember down the years.
But the opposite is also true. There are people out there who are to me blueshifted. They are moving closer to me all the time and with each passing day our friendship grows stronger. Beyond them there are people whom I have not even met yet – people I might not know for dozens of years if not decades – who are gradually nearing me over the course of our lives. Perhaps we will know each other for only a few minutes, perhaps for the rest of our lives. Perhaps we will love, be friends or fight with each other. I don’t know. But they will near me and maybe one day after that they will redshift and move away from me again and I will watch them grow distant and faint. Who can tell. The only fixed points in our lives are the stars above our heads and even they are fleeting in the long run. Things might not last forever – maybe we should appreciate them more whilst they’re here. Living on my own is a joy. Living with my family is something I ought to appreciate whilst I have it.