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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

The search for closure as graduation looms

As graduation approaches, I find myself gripped by a painful nostalgia. It’s as if all of my regrets from the past four years have materialized in the form of an inescapable specter. Sitting in class, I suddenly see myself making a joke at someone’s expense. Eating lunch, I cringe recalling when I slept through a date. I dream about a conversation that ended a close friendship. Like a curse, these memories I have entombed during my time here have been reanimated to haunt my final semester. The past few weeks have been fraught with these afflictive recollections.

Reliving these memories has been an emotionally taxing experience. I oscillate between periods of guilt, melancholy and mourning. To avoid the flashbacks, I bury myself in my assignments or spend an inordinate amount of time at the gym. But they always return, accompanied by that same aching nostalgia.

In essence, I feel a need for closure. A yearning to travel back in time to undo my wrongs, to hold my tongue, to make amends before a relationship frayed. My powerlessness to change the past is agonizing. In an absurd way, I feel like an ill-fated criminal — wrongdoings permanent — being led to the guillotine. While my tribulations are those of an ordinary college student — and I face graduation, not a death machine — it feels like my troubles have existential weight.

But unlike the condemned, I may be able to redeem my mistakes. Though I have lost their friendship, those people are not gone. They live within shouting distance, frequent the same dining halls, and it would only take a simple text to meet with them to profess my remorse. Absolution may be an apology away. Why, then, do I feel paralyzed to reach out to those I have hurt? Why does gaining closure feel so unattainable?

To answer these questions, I decided to take a critical look at my conception of closure and what it means to “move on.” My first realization was that my idea of moving on is rooted in ego. Wrongly, I believed recovering from a loss meant I could think about it without a negative emotional response. If I did not feel pangs of guilt or longing when it came to mind, then I assumed I had successfully and completely healed. Yet closure is more than just emotional resilience. Even with callousness, vulnerability remains. Apathy toward a memory becomes an excuse to avoid it, or hide it away and leave it unresolved. My need for closure has permeated through this emotional armor.

Holistic closure is deeper, more intangible. It involves a comprehensive understanding of the causes of the loss: the nature of the relationship preceding it, the content of what was said, the emotions at play. One must estrange themself from their limited perspective and examine the event from afar. Since our memories are so intensely colored by personal biases, this dissociation is incredibly challenging. It often takes repeated contemplation and self-reflection to come to an adequate conclusion. Early junior year, some of my hurtful words resulted in the abrupt end of one of my closest friendships. It took me over a year to recognize the significance of what I said, to take a step back and measure the conditions that precipitated the event. After doing so, I feel closer toward coming to terms with the role I played in the damaged relationship.

Yet loss involves more than one person. Does this mean I should involve others in my search for closure? Should I reach out to those friends I hurt junior year?

Whether reaching out to those you’ve hurt is appropriate, or even intrinsic to gaining closure, is a difficult question. However, I believe wanting to reach out to those you’ve wronged is a natural impulse. Therefore, its implications need to be considered.

I have defined two ways to address this dissonance: one is active, the other passive. An active approach involves reaching out to those you’ve wounded. It appeals to a romantic ideal — that reconciliation can be achieved through a single act of profession. While a heartfelt conversation could conceivably lead to closure, I am skeptical of its reliability. Consider, for example, when someone says that they accept an apology. How do you know they truly mean it? The appraisal of their forgiveness may simply be a projection of one’s desire for closure. In this way, the catharsis of profession can be used to pretend closure has been reached, when the issue may remain unresolved.

On the other hand, the passive approach involves using artistic expression to reach closure. By manifesting one’s experience through art, it offers a sense of agency that alleviates the feeling of powerlessness. Through this process, one can close the book on past misdoings without having to confront the art’s muse. Personally, I do this by making playlists out of songs that I associate with a loss. The songs inspire me to think deeply, and sometimes a particular chord or rhyme produces a newfound clarity. As I have grown, so have the playlists.

But in thinking about reaching closure before graduation, I am left with one final question: is it even worth the trouble? I will probably never see the people I’ve hurt here ever again after departing from campus. I am reminded of the image of the guillotine — if execution is inevitable, why would the condemned try to right his wrongs? In the same way, closure before graduation feels absurd. If that lost friendship from junior year is irredeemable anyway, then why do I even care?

I still search for an answer, but one aphorism embodies my optimism. Albert Camus once wrote, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.” Even as graduation makes its unassailable approach, I feel compelled by a transcendent desire to prevail over the specters of regret. There is an underlying beauty to the struggle that goes beyond atoning for a short-lived friendship. Compelled by this force, inconsolable and hopelessly idealistic, I will continue my search.

Joseph Levine is a member of the class of 2021.