Right now, I am walking in circles around the Baha'i Temple. At this point, it's hard to remember how many times I've been here exactly. Certainly in the dozens.
Without knowing precisely how much this place has impacted me, I can say with certainty that no place has given me as much shelter since coming to Northwestern. Whether I came alone or with others, every trip has been important as I gradually filled the space with countless memories and emotions.
I remember coming here as a freshman with Grant, both of us walking about 40 minutes from South Campus. We took our time walking up, sitting in the gardens, walking back. Those were some of my favorite moments of freshman year, realizing that I had found a real friend, someone willing to share a balmy spring day for as long as we could make it last, neither of us wanting to rush back to campus.
I mentally jump to junior year, to Spring Quarter as well. I was struggling. I wasn't eating. I was anxious – anxious for no reason, and yet I could not know that at the time. Anxious because of love, anxious because of changing circumstances.
It took coming up to the garden once again on my bike with a veggie wrap, a granola bar and a copy of the Tao Te Ching as my only company. Over the course of several hours, I sat, and read, and cried, and read, and ate slowly, and sipped some water to try to make peace with myself. Not knowing what would come next, I needed to return to the present. I had to remember that I could still love and take care of myself, even as anxiety sought to derail me with its erroneous conviction that life is not made to change.
Then that summer, I did find clarity for perhaps the first time in my life – genuine, lucid awareness of my place and being in that moment. I felt no need to rush beyond the idle summer, content to sleep in, cook for myself, ride my bike, meditate and take stock of all that had rushed by me. My dad and sister came to visit Evanston, and I took them to the garden. I remember sitting with my sister and picking flowers, smelling the fresh mints. I remember sitting with my dad, thankful just to share this place once again with people that I loved and could themselves enjoy its tranquility.
And here I am now. I am here, and there is simply the densest fog I have ever encountered in my life. The most honest silence I have ever encountered in my life.
Right now, I'm listening to the band Porches. Last year, on the night that my girlfriend and I broke up, I saw them play for the first time. You might think that the music would be tinged with sadness because of it, and I thought that would be the case too. And yet, there's always been this ambiguity in one of their songs that's stayed with me. In the song "Be Apart," he sings, "I want to be apart of it all." It really depends where I'm at in my life, whether I hear it as "I want to be a part of it all," or "I want to be apart of it all."
Because you need both. I certainly need both, and I'm grateful both are there in that song. I needed to share Baha'i with my friends and my family to realize how fortunate I was to have them with me. But I always knew I could go back alone, to find a quiet space to breathe and feel some deeper connection, carried on the gentle Lake Michigan breeze.
I'm alone at Baha'i, as I have been so many times before. And yet I'm not. I'm really not. I'm here with all the people, whether physically or in spirit, that I've shared this place with. I’m with all the memories and the emotional baggage that this place has held for me.
It seems so strange to call it four years – reducing it to that single digit seems to trivialize the whole experience. All I can think about is that I'm here at Baha'i in the spring, and I remember being here last spring, and where I was in that time in my life, in that spring of my life. And I'm thankful.