Even though I should’ve seen it coming, it didn’t really feel real until we were sitting on Emma’s floor at 2am, listening to President Trump say the words that would irrevocably change the course of our semester: travel ban, returning US citizens exempt, but everyone strongly urged to come home as soon as possible.
Very few of us slept that night. Frantic calls to parents, tears, and looks of absolute astonishment hung heavy in the air during those early moments. DIS officially shut down a few hours later — we had to be out of our housing within the next week — and airline websites were already crashing with the sheer number of people trying to react to a newly uncertain future.
More than anything, it was the suddenness of it all that really stung. I began my week floating in the promise of two more months. Of Taco Tuesdays and Thursday soccer, a trip to Russia with Bryn and Zack, late-night conversations with Emma and midnight runs around Sodermalm. Replaced with hasty goodbyes, cleaned-out rooms with still-full fridges and trashcans, and the stunned feeling you get when the rug is completely pulled out from under you. After losing my childhood home to a fire two years ago, I’m acutely aware of what it feels like to have your sense of home suddenly and deeply shaken. And as I mourn the loss of my home in Stockholm I find myself feeling similar emotions, even though my time there was short.
I can’t help but harken back to my first blog, and the sense that my experience has come full-circle in the most bittersweet of ways. Before I left, I wrote about the idea that time is slippery, unpredictable, uncontrollable. And I think that the most beautiful and terrible thing about time is that you never know how much of it you’re going to get. We can often lose ourselves in the illusion of plans, in the promise of the future, when the truth is that there’s just so much we can’t hold as certain. And yet in the face of that, all I can think about right now is how ridiculously lucky I am. For all of the memories I got to make in such a short amount of time. For all the new countries I saw, subjects I learned, foods I ate, friends I made. For all of the times I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. I never expected to feel so happy, so loved, so secure in such a new place.
On my last days in Stockholm, I didn’t go to the Vasa, or to any of the other must-see attractions on my study abroad bucket list. It felt a bit hollow to cram in the touristy things. Instead, I spent my time walking around my favorite parts of the city – the cobblestoned streets of Gamla Stan, through the electric buzz buzz of TCentralen, past the familiar lights of the Hornstull flower markets. I ate the same burgers, sushi, and pastries that first made this place feel like home. I drank in the familiar, spending time in the places most saturated with memory. If I could give one piece of advice from my time abroad, it would be to cherish the little things. Because although the exotic adventures will be great, it’s the trips to the grocery store, the walks to class, the hangouts in my bedroom that will stick with me the most. It’s not often that we remember to appreciate the beauty in routine. And now that this sense of routine has been taken away, I’m really able to see how necessary it is to a sense of stability and happiness.
When I think back on my time in Stockholm, I won’t remember the chaos of these last few days. But what I will remember is Evan, and Emma, and Dean, and Julie, and Bryn, and Julia, and Jojo, and Zack, and all of the other people who made this experience so unimaginably sweet for me. I honestly can’t say if I loved Stockholm so much for the city itself, or for the wonderful company that I got to enjoy it with. And the only way I can think to end this chapter in my life is with the words of one of my favorite quotes by A.A. Milne, that rings achingly true in this moment: “Oh, how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”