On my first day at MIT, I fell flat on my back in the Student Center lobby.
Rewind four weeks, to a field in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was about to start playing Ultimate Frisbee. The teams stretched, casually tossed a disc around, then lined up at our respective ends of the field. I donned my Rooney England jersey that morning, in the hope that it would inspire me to new heights of athleticism (although given his recent showing at the World Cup, that was probably a mistake.)
The other team pulled. I sprinted ahead, ready to receive the first pass. My team-mate caught my eye. I nodded. He threw a low, fast forehand, which began curving right. Eyes on the Frisbee, I began to run sideways. BAM. Crashed into a member of the other team, who had come running over to make the block. Foot rolled, lost my balance, fell. Ankle in pain. Head on knees. A chorus of “uh oh”s. Heard one guy say, “dude, that had to be, what, the first pass of the game?”
Four weeks later, I arrived at my new home – MIT campus – with a pounding heart and a throbbing, fractured and/or badly-sprained foot. It was pouring, and I
1) didn’t own a raincoat, and
2) was too occupied with the crutches to hold an umbrella.
So, by the time I hobbled from my 4th floor room in New House (a dorm with no elevator) to the Student Center, I was soaked through. I nudged the door open, and dripped my way into the lobby, pausing for a moment to catch my breath, a puddle forming from water dripping out of my hair and clothes. After a few minutes, I gritted my teeth and pressed on. Hopped down the stairs. One crutch, the next, and then – slipped. Crutches flew up, legs flailed, landed flat on my back. It was very dramatic. Now, the Student Center lobby is a crowded place – and this morning, it was packed with horrified faces. Four people instantly jumped up and rushed over to me. They spoke very slowly and clearly, as though worried that the impact of my fall had somehow affected my hearing. “ARE. YOU. OKAY? DO. YOU. NEED. HELP?”
“No, no,” I answered, mortified. After I convinced them that I was fine, they helped me up, fussed over me some more, and I crutched across the lobby, monitored by hordes of wary gazes.
My entrance during Campus Preview Weekend was just as dignified, and strangers were just as eager to help.
I spent the weekend with tonsils the size of golf balls and a splitting headache. After a miserable first day, I found myself sitting next to an upperclassman at a lunchtime barbecue. I apologized to her for not talking much, explaining (well, croaking) that my throat hurt. To my astonishment, she leapt up, disappeared into her dorm, and returned with a cup of tea and honey. Her friend hurried indoors and returned with a yellowish concoction that she instructed me to gargle twice a day.
While wandering around aimlessly in a sick daze, students, staff, other pre-frosh, and parents would ask if I needed help, or if I was lost. When I was looking for the MITSO meeting and ended up in the wrong auditorium, I asked some guy sitting in the audience for directions, and instead of verbally delivering them, he got out of his seat and walked me all the way there.
Mens et manus.
I’ve seen MIT from the perspective of someone sick, tired, and in a bad mood. In a way, I’m glad I have, because now I know that when that happens – and it definitely will, plenty of times, over the next four years – I’ll be in a community of people that can pick me up and (literally!) put me back on my feet.
I’m so lucky to be able to join them :)