The Regenerative Nature of Summer

One writer reflects on her moments of healing at Dartmouth.

by Jessica Sun Li | 8/5/22 3:05am

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by Elaine Pu / The Dartmouth Staff

It’s a little more than halfway through the summer now, which also means I’m a little more than halfway through the halfway point of my Dartmouth career. It’s really strange to think about because in so many ways, I feel like I just arrived. I just found my place at this school, and I just became comfortable here. 

I think that this feeling of time going by too quickly is due to the ’24s’ loss of a freshman year because of the pandemic. Classes weren’t in person, clubs weren’t in person and socializing struggled to be in person. We weren’t even allowed to eat meals with friends until freshman spring. A vacant freshman year left the door open for a tumultuous sophomore year — a year in which I totally deteriorated and then slowly began to build back up.

A wave of depression that creeped in starting in the fall sent me to rock bottom in the winter. Generally speaking, I consider myself a content person. But as I entered this downward spiral of my mental health, I lost the stability of contentment. The sadder and hollower I became, the more I felt like I was losing my personality. I hated who I was turning into. “I want to be who I used to be,” I wrote in my journal. 

Spring term, I finally began to heal. A variety of factors all culminated in me learning to be alone and to be with myself. I finished that term happy but uncertain — I’d spent so long feeling so depressed that, that period of happiness felt temporary. After the past couple of terms, I also didn't know who I was — I definitely wasn’t who I was before.

Coming into sophomore summer, I honestly braced myself for the worst. The expectation to party during sophomore  summer that I was told by upperclassmen, combined with the precarity of my mental stability meant that I was not sure how this term was going to go for me. I felt like the wounds of previous terms had just scabbed over, and any minor injury would reopen them.

One Saturday morning, I woke up to a text in a group chat that read: “Anyone for a Gile hike this afternoon?” A response from another friend indicated that that afternoon might be too hot, which led to an amended proposal: “Anyone for a Gile hike in 30 min?”

I was exhausted from the night before, and I was stressed about all the work I had to do that weekend. But I did not want to miss out on spending time with my friends, especially for something as easily procrastinated as homework. Hesitantly, I agreed to the trip.

Halfway through the hike (and I am using the word “hike” very generously here), I realized just how much more important this experience was to me than any work I could have been doing. I also realized how much more meaningful this trip was in terms of nurturing our friendships as opposed to mere nights out in frat basements. I’m probably not going to remember things like a random Friday night out or a morning of cranking out assignments. But I am going to remember things like our long conversations at the top of the fire tower, feeling like we had all the time in the world. We must’ve sat there for nearly 20 minutes before another group of people showed up, and we reluctantly headed down the stairs and back into the real world.

“Pull over, pull over!” someone urged. It’s a few weeks later. My friends and I were driving back from the Class of ’66 Lodge, just off of the Moose Mountain trailhead. It was late — a little bit past midnight. We had gone out there for a combined cabin trip with our sorority and a fraternity, but some of us decided against staying the night. It was less than five minutes into our drive home when we saw the car in front of us pull over to the side of the road. Curious, we pulled over too.

Rolling down the window, our driver called out, “What’s going on?”

“Look at the stars!” someone from the first car said. I was sitting in the middle of the back seat, so I pulled back the sunroof and gazed upwards. Those in the front seats got out of the car and sat on the hood.

Now, I understand that stars are pretty, but I’m also from right outside of a major city, which means that my night skies are victims of significant amounts of light pollution. I’d never seen stars like that before. Out there in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night, I was in awe. We let time slow down, and we just took it all in.

As I’m laying on a tube floating down the river, as I’m devouring banh mi from a spontaneous trip to Phnom Penh, or as I’m sitting on the Collis porch chatting with friends and enjoying the weather, I realize how content I am again. Maybe this summer wasn’t as “crazy” as the ’23’s hyped up  summer to be, but maybe it didn’t need to be. And maybe I’m not who I was before, but maybe I don’t need to be.

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