Who are we without our memories?
As a Lower, I have been at Andover for almost two years. From the first days of my Junior fall, I witnessed my peers––albeit over Zoom and social media––connect and feel at “home.” I didn’t. I missed my old life, my old school, and the old atmosphere. On the last day of the Fall Term, goodbye and appreciation posts inundated my Instagram feed. If I’m being honest, I was bewildered; I still hadn’t found my homebase, and I still missed my old school. How was everyone else able to live in the present and not wallow in the irreplaceable past? I kept on encouraging myself to give it some time; perhaps after a year, I would fall in love with my life now, just like I anticipated when I received my acceptance letter.
Two years later, I still refrain from saying I “love Andover.” As I witness every single one of my friends slowly discover their belonging at this school, I worry that I’ll be the last. The simple truth is that I didn’t, don’t, and have only recently found the courage to admit it in public. A week ago, my middle school posted a YouTube video celebrating its 175th anniversary. I watched the full thing; bittersweetness and as expected, a somewhat-faint tingling of regret filled my heart. And yet, along with these sensations, I realized that I have grown. Now able to let my memories and past coexist with––rather than hinder––my presence here, I finally see a glimmer of hope and light.
This shift in nostalgia stemmed from a realization that my memories, as if having been locked into a tiny box, won’t ever leave. From the instant I received my acceptance letter, I knew that I would leave the school I loved. I hoped it was for the better, but at that instant, I didn’t know. I passed through my days then in a more aware and appreciative manner, reaching for any occurrence I could make into a memory. With the timer ticking down, I collected these memories one by one and stored them into my brain.
My Junior-year-self constantly compared the present to these memories. I viewed them like conditional statements, that perhaps if I went back, maybe I could return to those days. If I left Andover before it was too late, maybe I could relive those experiences. It seemed like joy could only bud from repetition, that only when I lived through what I did again, I would be happy. I put the past and the present on an equal level, to some extent living in an imaginary parallel timeline. As a result, I was not happy––nostalgia disturbed me.
I didn’t realize that I had the capacity for more. Rather than viewing these memories as a potential pathway to happiness, I started viewing them as the foundation, the lying ground bricks to who I could become and the other tunnels that could lead me to that same joy. It was a shift in mindset: the ability to know that these positive memories shaped me into a new person, a more mature, reflective, and conscious individual now ready to take on more. The ability to access the memories as an eternal safe place when I was sad but not a comparison to what was happening today. I could not compare the two; I was a completely different person now. With this growth, I learned to put the past and present on two different levels. The past now below the present, I imagine it guarding the present––as if saying “I’ll always catch you.”
Slowly and surprisingly, I became more thankful for these memories. I thanked them not only for having chosen me, but also for their pure goodness. I was now able to truly reflect on them, to take a step back and see the whole picture. The purity I saw, the joyous middle-schooler that was lucky enough to have lived through what she did, shed their light on the present me. Without interrupting my thoughts with comparison, I finally grasped the full picture and appreciated my memories in their entirety. Without tainting my past with bits and pieces of the present, the memories were left untouched. They would always be the same as when I left the school, and I could always return whenever my heart desired.
The world moves on. You change, I change, and our friends change. Contrary to my mindset Junior year, if I left Andover and returned to my old environment, I would never be able to return back to the same experiences I made into memories. I am not the same person; my memories here will have morphed me into someone even better. The people I made my original memories with will have also changed. Yet, amidst this inconsistency lies a comforting reminder that those people are still there. Rather than hoping to re-enact and clone the past––an impossible reality––I now keep it in my heart, access it when I need to, and have learned to move on. All it takes is a different mindset.
Today, I’m hopeful. I don’t know if I see myself loving Andover in the next few months, but I sure hope I can reach that milestone––at last––in the near future.