I loved apple picking as a child. Whether it was juggling the apples, playing hide-and-seek between the bushes or just spending quality time with family and friends, it was always an activity near and dear to my heart. However, my family sadly stopped going after one year when three of my family friends, my sister and I all got severe poison ivy from an apple tree we had climbed.
About a year ago today, I applied to college. After seeing the Common App’s virtual confetti illuminate my screen, followed by the words, “You have successfully submitted your application to Johns Hopkins University,” I was instantly relieved and enthused but also nervous. I felt like I was growing up too quickly, with college approaching too soon. Yearning to reconnect with my childhood, I convinced my parents to take me apple picking the next day.
The morning after I submitted my application, we drove 40 minutes to the nearest apple orchard. As we pulled into the jam-packed parking lot, I was ecstatic for a day filled with fall festivities. It was a warm and sunny October day, with not a single cloud in the sky. As we climbed the orchard hill, I picked apple after apple from the colorful low-hanging branches, feeling a huge sense of accomplishment as I tossed each Granny Smith into a red tote bag. When we finally made our way back down the hill, we sat down to enjoy some fresh apple cider and apple cider donuts. All I felt was pure bliss.
And yet, despite all of the happiness I felt that day, I could not stop reminiscing. Reminiscing about my childhood, my hometown, my high school experiences... and wondering what lay ahead in the future. After a day filled with apple picking, hayrides, pumpkin patches and food trucks, all I could think about was how this could be the last time I ever went apple picking with my parents. A cheesy, sappy “goodbye” to my childhood.
I expected there to be many goodbyes throughout my senior year of high school. My last day of classes, my last orchestra concert, my last student government meeting and most importantly, graduation. But all of these goodbyes manifested themselves completely differently from how I had envisioned. They occurred in a world with COVID-19. A world where I couldn’t get the closure I had anxiously awaited for so many years. A world where meaningful endings and new beginnings were only possible through computer screens and Zoom.
Yet this world taught me an important lesson: Spending your life reminiscing about past events does not get you anywhere. Trying to relive memories and thinking about “what could have been” only makes life move more slowly and makes it more difficult to move on. None of us can predict the future. We have no idea where we will be a week from now, let alone a month or a year down the line.
A year ago today, I thought I’d be on a college campus. Independent and on my own. Exploring newfound freedoms within my adulthood. But instead, I am still in my childhood home, living a life very similar to that of my high school self.
That said, I refuse to let our unpredictable reality gnaw away at me, and I am done letting all of this uncertainty keep me up at night. I have withdrawn my expectations, and I am now making room for spontaneity. Whether that means going on a last minute hiking adventure with my friends or simply taking time out of my afternoon to FaceTime my grandparents far away, I am savoring life day-by-day and not pondering the complicated future ahead.
And much to the surprise of my “senior-year-self,” I chose to go apple picking again with my parents this year. Of course, this time, it looked a lot different, with masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. And with hayrides, busy food trucks and crowds no longer present.
Nevertheless, I am learning, slowly but surely, that life is still possible during this pandemic. Yes, it looks a lot different. But we can still enjoy bouts of happiness amid these dark times. We can still pick apples, even in an empty orchard. Just as we can transform these apples into new innovations, from ciders to pies to donuts, we can continue transforming our lives into something meaningful during the pandemic.
I say to my year-ago self: Make sure to enjoy it all. Savor time with family and friends. All the smiles, the laughs, the hugs. And don’t be afraid of the future. Go pick those apples, stuff them into your red tote bag, take them home with you and make a delicious apple pie.
Gabriel Lesser is a freshman from Westchester, N.Y., studying Neuroscience and Romance Languages. His column explores his past memories, along with current reflections and lessons that he has learned.