The hustle and bustle of life at the University of Higher Education is loud, fast and destructive. Walk through Diago at any sunlit hour on a weekday and you’ll be overwhelmed by the stamping of expensive shoes and the rustling of wine boxes in your backpacks. The number of bodies going in different directions disrupts the natural wind regime, making it easy to rush through this uncomfortable center. You were lucky to pass without being persuaded by some performers handing out flyers with the last performance. Or some club member asks you to buy a donut.
When I’m on campus, I get from point A to point B. God forbid I make awkward eye contact with anyone, to think I know, but can’t be sure of their masks. Avoid last-minute smiles and awkward waving of hands that may come when recognizing a classmate. Avoid Diago’s tables, rush past the slow walkers, try to turn off Ross’s holes and their complaints about any economic test they nearly passed.
I may be alone in my methods of blocking campus noise, but I don’t think I’m alone in my act of entering a more personal realm when I enter campus. Consciously or not, every species of Wolverine exists in its own world while on campus. Their world can sit at this Diag table and raise money for a club, or their world can face another through a conversation about what can and can’t be done on social media. But few of these worlds go beyond academia and into the wider Ann Arbor community and the beauty of the world. I am also to blame for this ignorance of my surroundings, which is why spending a spring break in Ann Arbor was so special.
When classes stopped and the students left, there was silence over our small town. Sweet silence.
I felt a lot of pressure to leave town for a break. To live, travel and explore new places. But, frankly, Ann Arbor without us annoying students feels a different world. Without the need to lower my head or pick up the pace, as well as a healthy dose of gratitude for the amazingly good weather, I could look back and enjoy the surroundings.
Look at all the beautiful oaks on our campus! And coquettishly chirping like birds flying between their branches. Is that grass peeking through the cold, hard dirt? I never noticed how beautiful the Hatcher Alumni Library is. Do silence and stillness promote our vision?
Stroll from campus, down Liberty Street, then down Main Street. Locals go out in the sun. It turns out that what they say about the people of the Midwest is true: they are are very nice, especially if their house is not filled with Redbull and vodka lovers. I exchanged smiles and good morning with countless strangers. I chose tables in any coffee shop. I didn’t have to make my way past the slow student walkers. I myself began to walk slowly, devoid of anxiety when I felt someone walking behind. This newfound slowness has made the world brighter, friendlier, more peaceful.
When students return from their vacations in Mexico, Florida or New Orleans, and the noise leaks back to campus, I doubt the reality of my spring break. As soon as it started, the silence disappeared. It’s hard to believe it was ever really. But the trees are still here and the birds are still singing. And Hatcher is still beautiful, and soon there will be flowers everywhere. The silence, the silence and the slowness are fading, but it’s still Ann Arbor.
My task when our semester resumes is to continue to draw boundaries between ourselves and the world around us. To go through the chart with my head raised so I could watch the trees add new leaves and the proteins pop up again. Even if you are already walking around campus with your eyes raised, I also urge you to reject the boundaries of any private world in which you live and immerse yourself in the beauty that this city has to offer.
You can contact daily art writer Maya Levy at email@example.com.