The Ritual of Pausing

When I was in Florence last fall, I encountered the Italian tradition of the pausa for the first time. Strictly speaking, it is the lunch break of the day. I see the pausa as being emblematic of the Italian lifestyle. The idea that people should work to live instead of live to work. The belief that mealtimes are sacred and meant to be shared with family instead of work. At the Villa, we had an hour long pranzo or lunch. After observing a moment of silence, the entire community of staff members, professors, and students would enjoy a primo, secondo, and dolce with a glass of wine in hand. When I ate dinner with my host family, we would begin by discussing the day and finish with a discussion of current events. The pausa became a peaceful ritual, a time to stop and reflect on this ever crazy, madly spinning world.

These days the ticking clock hovering over my head makes me want to hit the pause button on my life more than ever. I can hear the insistent ticking counting down to the end of college. That moment when I will have my diploma and the answers to life’s big questions in hand. In a year, I will no longer have a free pass on answering people’s probing questions. I’ll be an alumna, and people will have follow-up questions. Where will I work? Where will I live? What do I want to do with my life? What is the big plan? In fact, as any college student can tell you, these questions are asked a lot sooner than graduation. Or as any other Indian kid can attest, I’ve been asked these questions for pretty much my whole life. I think back to my senior year of high school when I didn’t yet have this weighty responsibility, and I’m struck by the sense that my life has somehow accelerated. My days in college are numbered – and this golden age of my life will eventually end.

To put it mildly, I do not handle change well. I know it’s necessary, it forces you to grow, and sometimes it’s for the best. I know all this. All the same, I feel restless and powerless in the face of whatever is about to happen. It’s like standing on the precipice of a cliff, knowing you are about to be pushed off the edge. Walking around my packed up apartment this past semester, I was paralyzed by the flight ticket to India sitting on my desk. I was simultaneously paralyzed by the reality that things would never be the same. I would never have another cozy night watching Shonda with friends in our lovely basement living room. It’s the craziness of these transitions that is jarring. Mere weeks ago, I was standing in the living room of my family’s air-conditioned townhouse surrounded by suitcases, and now I’m suffering through a power outage in Mann Deshi’s Mhaswad office covered in a fine sheen of sweat (read: I’m practically glowing). I’ve been here for three weeks now, and I’ve quickly settled into this routine bookended by chai breaks. The period of transition is what gets me – and I’m not entirely sure what it is that I’m afraid of.

This summer is a pausa with the simmering heat and monsoon rains keeping me temporarily frozen in time. I find myself thinking about the last three years that have flown by and how I’m not ready to be a senior. What was the point of it all? What can I say that I have really learned? I know there are a million things I would do differently if I had the chance, but I’m not sure I would change anything. The hardest thing for me to grapple with is that I am the product of a million choices (within and beyond my control) that have shaped my experience before and during my time at Georgetown. The floor I lived on my freshman year, the clubs that wanted me, and the friends that drifted away. There are all these parallel paths that I didn’t take but could have – who would I be now if I had? If I had gone to France instead of Italy, maybe I would understand the xenophobia that utterly perplexes and intrigues me. Maybe I would dazzle people with my French. Each choice leads to pivot points with more consequences than I can fathom.

The choices are what scare me going into senior year. I don’t want to give people, things, experiences up by saying no. There are a lot of Georgetown students who suffer from saying yes too much, but I am not one of them. If anything, I am always more inclined to say no. I am simultaneously afraid of what would happen if I say yes and terrified of missing out if I say no. The one thing I know for certain is that I want to see more, do more, just experience more of everything. Although I am terrified of literally everything, I’m saying yes to the myriad experiences that await me this summer and next year.

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