Turning to Lawrenceville For Comfort in Crisis

"You have to stop making bread," my sister said one morning, slicing herself a piece of sourdough toast. "I mean it."

"You have to stop making bread," my sister said one morning, slicing herself a piece of sourdough toast. "I mean it."

She was right. Two days after we baked that sourdough, I had managed to plow through half a five-pound bag of flour making far more steamed buns than a house of three people could eat. One day of baking had halved our precious flour supply. Yet I couldn't keep myself out of the kitchen.

I've been stuck in this baking frenzy throughout the entirety of my time social distancing. Nothing about that statement is normal. Social distancing obviously isn't normal. My baking habit isn't normal: I wasn't a baker before quarantine and probably won't stay one afterward. The way I've spent quarantine slowly losing all sense of ordered time and space isn't "normal" self-quarantine, a concept I can't define beyond the fact that it seems to involve regular social contact with college friends outside of Zoom classes and attempting to maintain our old lifestyles. Only the most aggressively stable people I know seem to have achieved this level of "normalcy."

I'm self-aware enough to know what this baking habit means, though: I'm still looking for a sign that things around me are changing in permanent ways, trying to find my way out of my denial of the current situation. I know that bread will not unbake itself and that dough will not un-rise. In contrast, the whole of my first year of college-now characterized more by half-packed suitcases, WeChat updates from family locked down near Wuhan, and half-baked goodbyes to friends I still barely know-has faded into a hazy, meaningless dream. The streets of my college town, slowly filled with valuable memories over the course of a year, have reverted into the tangle of anonymous storefronts I saw from the car window when I arrived in September. In this compressed space, this liminal time, I have reverted to the self I was when I left this house in September. Everything my first year of college was or was supposed to be seems to be gone.

Maybe it's fitting, then, that I've found myself turning back to Lawrenceville for comfort. When my days aren't divided between cooking time and avoiding work, they're filled by updates on social media. Among those updates are all the Lawrenceville accounts I still follow-my underclassmen friends, of course, whose lives I only see through Instagram nowadays, but also Lawrenceville's own accounts. I've paged through the Bunn Library's book recommendations, laughed at the daily mishaps of the newborn lambs at the Big Red Farm, marveled at the fact that The Lawrence's new Board decided to start their tenure over Zoom. I've seen Lawrenceville's official account announce writing workshops organized by Working Title, The Lit, and the Creative Writing Club and realized that, yes, the things I loved at Lawrenceville have lived on and grown unfamiliar. That even as my college experience unravels, the fact that Lawrenceville continues to change has, paradoxically, kept it the community I remember.

I live seven minutes away from Lawrenceville, close enough to drive there and back without my family noticing I've been gone. I haven't tried it, of course. There's nothing to be gained from wandering a campus on lockdown when all the things I'd promised myself I'd do if I visited-pet the farm cats, Bioblitz in the pond, sneak into consult to pester my old teachers-are no longer possible. Yet Lawrenceville's increased social media presence in this time, amplified by my increased awareness of it, feels more than ever like a signal that the world is still turning. As I turn to Lawrenceville for comfort, I realize just how much I miss it. As I struggle through the COVID-19 crisis, I have a renewed appreciation and love for the active Lawrenceville community. Even though I have graduated and gone off to college, I find that my high school family still manages to support me and keep me afloat.

Two weeks ago, the Facebook group chat the 138th Lawrence Board once used for general communications lit up with a flurry of messages-something about a Lawrence 139/140 Zoom call someone wanted us to join. Gladly throwing three days' worth of backed-up homework aside, I clicked on the link to find that at least half of the people in the call were from 138. It was the first time so many of us had been in one place since Thanksgiving.

As the remnants of 139th and 140th Board trickled out, I couldn't help but wonder if everyone was here for the same reason I was: not just for the sake of nostalgia, but for a confirmation that before we left for college, we had been part of this paper together; that 139's transition into 140 proved that this paper was no longer ours; that we really had moved on, even if the stagnancy of the present made it hard to tell. As I turn to the Lawrenceville community for comfort, I realize just how valuable my experiences and friendships were-and how much I miss them. I see that while I may have graduated, my Lawrenceville experience isn't over. No matter the crisis, the Lawrenceville community-comprised of current students, past students, and even teachers-will continue to lift me up.

The day after that Zoom call, with a fresh batch of dough resting in the kitchen cabinet, I stepped outside for the first time in weeks. The trees, bare as winter just weeks ago, were now feathered in green.


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