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Maybe it’s a ‘duh’ moment

| Wednesday, March 30, 2022

This past week I realized that I still have not put up any pictures in my dorm room.

It’s strange to me because I’ve always considered pictures to be one of the most important things I bring to school. Every semester, I would choose a place in my room to display a visual summary of my loved ones, friends and favorite memories. That tapestry is a reminder of who inspired me to come to Saint Mary’s and pursue higher education and who I want to honor and keep in my mind and heart every day.

Freshman year I sticky-tacked the photos to the cinder-block wall of McCandless. Sophomore year I pinned them to a corkboard above my loft in Holy Cross Hall. One morning I woke up with it on top of me, so the photos were relocated to the corkboard on my desk. First semester of junior year, I taped them to my wardrobe across the ocean in Rome. Each collection was carefully curated and organized, and at the top of my settling-in tasks.

This semester I moved back to campus, joined my roommate in our Le Mans “double” (with the same dimensions as the single across the hall, she measured), but didn’t put any pictures up. Granted, we planned on moving to a slightly bigger room, but that didn’t happen for some unexplained reason.

So, besides a few of my roommate’s on the fridge, there are no pictures on my walls.

I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the realization, honestly. I was partly surprised, partly unsurprised, partly sad and partly curious.

I was surprised even though I knew, of course, that there weren’t any pictures up. What surprised me was the ten or so weeks it took for me to actually comprehend what it meant.

At the same time, I was unsurprised because I knew the logical answer to my bare walls: the plan to switch rooms. I didn’t want to go through the mentally and emotionally intricate process of arranging my photos just to take them down after a week or two. Then one week or two turned into four, then eight, and then it was spring break and now spring break was two weeks ago. Time flies, period.

And I was sad. I missed seeing the faces of my mom and dad and my brother, of my late grandparents and dog, my best friends from home, our international family of exchange students and the sunset over the bay in my hometown. This semester especially, it’s been hard to keep in touch. Maybe that’s because of my workload or maybe it’s because I wasn’t seeing those faces everyday and I need that reminder more than I thought.

Finally, I was curious.

What exactly is different about not having pictures up? Is it really that important?

An argument might be made for undecorated spaces being better for focus and study – less distractions and whatnot. I can look at pictures on my phone anytime, or my computer, so no need to waste paper.

But I feel untethered. In limbo. Not settled. Lonely?

Hanging up pictures was my way of claiming the space as my own, my home, for the time I’m there. Sure, I’ve stacked my books and filled my desk drawers and put my toothbrush next to the sink, but none of those things have the extraordinarily soulful impact that pictures do.

“Extraordinarily soulful impact.” Nice-looking words, right? Like any good jargon, they are just noise until someone decides what they mean. I can’t do that without a little experimentation. Would you mind waiting a minute please?

(insert some sentimental instrumentals)


I put my photos up.

I was going to try to figure out what’s so important about them and realized I can’t do that without seeing the difference with my own eyes. So at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in my dorm, my roommate away for the weekend and five weeks to go in the semester, I finally claimed this space as my own.

The contrast is devastatingly palpable.

I haven’t seen my mom and dad since the beginning of the semester, and my brother since New Year’s. My best friends. My international siblings. The radiant faces of my departed Nana and Papa and Grandpa who I miss so much and my Grandma, who I simply cannot wait to see at Easter. And of course, the canine grin of my late four-legged friend.

I realized that I felt untethered because these pictures weren’t there to gently tug on my heartstrings to remind me that I’m still connected, even if the line has gone a little bit silent.

These photographs also show me I’ve grown since those captured moments. I’m not in limbo. I simply forgot to look down and see my roots, see how far I’ve come. I’m settled, because I put the linchpin in its place; I put the photos in their place. You know the phrase “out of sight, out of mind?” I learned how easy it is to feel lonely when there aren’t any faces gazing back at you.

So as I sit at my desk, savoring all the familiar pictures made new by their absence, I conclude that yes, it’s really that important. Maybe it’s a bit of a “duh” moment, but it’s a moment nonetheless.

My toothbrush certainly doesn’t have that effect.

Madeline Law is a Saint Mary’s junior from Petoskey, Michigan. She studies English literature and communication studies with a minor in theater. If you can find her, she’ll either be adding books to scattered to-read lists or re-reading old favorites. Reach her at [email protected] and send book suggestions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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