The End?

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Ten minutes ago, I handed in my final exam. My choice of two out of six possible essays, covering two different themes that both spanned from 8 BCE to 5 CE: complete. How does a semester of travel, learning, claustrophobia, bonding, loneliness, friendship, loving and hating everything, turbulence, loss, stress, deadlines, failures, and growth end with adding my name and assigning a number to each of the final ten pages that cover some of the best and worst days of my life, all disguised in the objectivity of an essay about the facts I learned on those days?

As we walked out of room, the tumult of cheering, screaming, and congratulations ensued, but all I could manage was a smile. I cannot begin to describe the stress of the past two weeks, but upon its release, all I felt was empty, and quite alone. It’s a typical experience for me; I always feel a loss of purpose at the end of a semester. This semester, however, is the biggest thing I have ever done, and something I had to work for with a lot of effort. I learned that getting something you worked for does not mean that one escapes the person she was when she worked for it; that is, a success doesn’t mean happiness. I may be in Rome, but I am still myself, and everything that is me accompanied me. I couldn’t run away, but now I know that if I had been able to, none of this would have meant anything.

The Four Rivers fountain by Bernini has been restored, and the scaffolding is gone. Piazza Navona looks spectacular, and there’s a carousel and a fair for Christmas. I went gift-shopping there yesterday after the Thucydides exam; I needed something to lift my spirits after the end of such a great class. I ran into a Centristo, and we went to the Pantheon (a personal favorite) again, and eventually walked to S. Maria in Trastevere to see the sixth-Century CE mosaics. We had to stay on the fringes of the church as we were admiring the art because an orchestra of school-age students was practicing. Watching all the parents scurrying around, some taking pictures or videos, some talking, others watching intently, really brought me back to my early days in band. I went to a Catholic school, and we always had Christmas concerts. It’s weird to think how long it has really been since I was just like those kids.

I’m not going to Venice today. Tonight is the closing dinner, and I am going to do the difficult thing and stay here and experience the end of the program, and all the goodbyes that I would have run away from. Marijke put it correctly; running away from the end and pushing everyone away is such a typically-Susie thing to do, and I was on the verge of doing it again. It’s going to be hard for me, but I have lived in this city and with these people for four months now, and I need to say goodbye to both. There is one person in particular to whom I owe a real farewell, and I think that she, more than anyone else here, was the one from whom I was running away.

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