The Opposite of Loneliness in St Andrews
University life, especially in St Andrews, while exciting and completely varied, can often lead to extreme cases of cabin fever. In a town so small, the feeling of being stuck in a bubble can be intense, and this feeling is especially concentrated in between the load of coursework and the onslaught of exams. I would spend many an evening stuck in the tiny cinderblock library listening to the soundtrack of frantic typing and surrounded by an air so thick with apprehension it could practically choke you. My favourite desk (only available if you arrived before 9) overlooked West Sands, a long stretch of sand bordered by the Old Course and fringed by tall pine trees. I would sit with my head in my hands and just stare out at the North Sea, in all its turbulent glory.
Throughout my time at St Andrews, the sea was my hook, the place I would go alone or with friends when we were stressed. We would stare out and talk, or not talk, and when we returned to the nests we would build ourselves during exams and essays, things would feel different, our perspectives readjusted.
When most people think of the North Sea, they think ‘bone achingly cold,’ and it truly is, but I seem to have spent more than my fair share throwing myself into its grasp. However, its not just me that can acknowledge its power. One flatmate, in the throws of his dissertation decided at midnight in the middle of February that he needed a ‘baptism’ in order to refresh his perspective. So, the four of us in solidarity ran into the sea headfirst. There is also a reason that the entire University population runs in at first light on the first of May (other than cleansing academic sins*). It certainly is a sight, 8000 people sprinting into the sea, dark and opaque, as the sun rises. And while it may seem mad, the experience itself is one that is vital to the collective of the University. Important for each individual, but also as an act of uniting the university’s population.
I could probably write several books about the memories I have on those St Andrews beaches. For me, the place sums up everything I felt in the four years I lived on its periphery: friendship, loneliness, love, isolation, awe, stress, uncertainty, exhilaration, but most of all, the feeling of being present and connected to something bigger.
The week we graduated, my friends and I spent the week together as a final farewell, clinging on to that feeling that Marina Keegan aptly coins in her essay title as ‘the opposite of loneliness.’ For me, it was their friendship that was the nuclei to my life at University, and without them I most likely wouldn’t have made it through to the end. We met on the very first night we arrived in the town, as terrified 17 and 18 year olds, and stuck together throughout, thick as thieves.
On our final night together, the biggest lightning storm I have ever witnessed eclipsed the town. I love storms, especially lightning, but (thankfully) as Scotland could rarely be considered humid, they are considerably rare. There is not many experiences that are better at putting life into perspective than the power of a storm.
We had all just gone to bed when the storm began, but as I sat, gazing out, waiting for the next flash, I received a text telling me to come downstairs, wrapped up warm. The three of us that were still awake made our way to the beach, and even though the storm appeared to have passed when we arrived, we sat on the pier and waited, just in case. To our surprise, the friend had been asleep appeared, bounding along the sand towards us.
And then the strikes began.
Running, we made our way up onto the grassy bank as the heavens opened and stood, united, on a bench that overlooked the sea, gazing up at the bruised sky as it danced and sparked. It was standing there on that bench while the rain dripped off of my nose, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, that I truly felt at once terrified and ready to let go of St Andrews, for even though we wouldn’t be a 10 minute walk from each others house, I knew that my friends would always have my back, and I wholeheartedly would have theirs.
I don’t remember how long we stood there, but I think at some point somebody pointed out that it probably wasn’t entirely safe to stand on a bench during a lightening storm, especially on a flat beach. So we made our way home, quiet and reflective, to part the next morning.
If you haven’t read it already, Marina Keegan’s Essay and book ‘The Opposite of Loneliness‘ is a truly beautiful piece of writing that perfectly describes that terrifying feeling of leaving university and the synonymous feeling of community.
*Academic Sins: Stepping on the PH and academic incest (academic families, not real ones) are the main culprits. St Andrews is a weird and beautiful place.