It is nearing the end of winter break, and I am sitting on the top floor of Thompson Library at The Ohio State University. I am looking down at what they call The Oval, hoping to find something I’ve lost.
The Oval is a web of sidewalks crisscrossing through a giant courtyard. Its beauty is in its simplicity. It isn’t something to be understood from above. It is nestled in the bumps of backpacks and kicks of snow that consume a daily existence.
The Oval is where paths of life intertwine. Down there, right now, are hundreds of lives running off to class, or the rec center, or the library, or back home. And down there, somewhere, is the person I could have been.
Why am I here? The better question, really, is why am I not? This could have been home. It’s a hypothetical I’ve struggled with for three and a half years now, hidden in the shuffling feet of my walks across MU. I suppose in some ways, it’ll live with me forever.
You don’t shake an affinity for Ohio State when you grew up where I did, how I did, an hour north of campus, in New Year’s Day parties and backyard football games with dreams of scarlet uniforms. Somewhere along the line, Ohio State turns from a football team to a destination. So much of my family had gone there. My best friends were set on going there. I was, too, until journalism came along.
And so it’s funny, really, that I’m sitting here, at the literal highest point of Ohio State, using writing to explain why it kept me from being one of these students I watch scurrying off to class. Three and a half years have gone by at MU, where I have spent my own hours in the J-School overlooking the Francis Quadrangle. These three and a half years have been spent assimilating to a new culture and a life path that doesn’t run through Columbus, Ohio. They have been spent chanting “MIZ” to hear a “ZOU,” or dodging the pesky people at Speakers Circle, or burning the midnight oil on the top floor of our own library. They have been spent trying to define and redefine me.
Maybe that’s why coming back here is harder now as a senior in college than it was as a senior in high school. I’ve changed. I’ve found a new home, and I can’t get it out of my mind, either.
As my eyes follow the scarlet-clad students scurrying through the snow on the Oval, my mind fills with the gold-clad ones darting like dots across the quad. Everything I see here is in relation to who I am now.
We accept that we will change over time, but we can never predict the places or people that will make it happen. As we grow older, we evaluate our lives and our dreams based on what we know and what we have seen in our own lives or the lives of those surrounding us.
Yet those parameters keep changing, too. We never evaluate life choices based on what we haven’t seen. Sometimes, we can break the mold by daring to chase a dream into the unknown.
I don’t come back to Ohio State because I can’t let go. I do so because I don’t want to. The winding paths below me aren’t only for the students who trample them. They are for any of us who have ever wanted to be something we couldn’t.
Some stages in life, I’m learning, were given to us to look back on.