When I had sleepovers growing up, my mother used to change my sheets before I got home. She wanted me to feel fresh, she said, and she knew nothing better for that feeling than crisp, clean sheets. I always agreed. That first night home, I would peel back my comforter, crawl into the white cocoon, scented with Tide laundry detergent and my mother’s perfume, and burrow down until only the top of my head poked out of the sheets. I would breathe in deeply, intoxicated by the sense of safety and comfort and utter satisfaction that comes from returning to one’s bed after a night or two away. I can still smell it now, that clean-sheet smell, and I’m convinced it is the scent of love.
My mother still does this for me, even at 21 years old. I can guarantee that on December 22, when I push my bedroom door open, bleary-eyed and smelling of airplane, I will see crisp white sheets on my bed. My mother and I never talk about this little ritual of ours. It goes undiscussed, much like the countless rides to school and birthday cakes and hours of work she puts in to pay Boston College’s exorbitant tuition. It is simply another fact of my life, or rather another fact of our relationship.
I wonder how many of us out there notice these small gestures. At a school where politeness is yet another mode of competition, I wonder how many gratuitous and unthinking acts of generosity exist. It seems every good deed requires a loud “thank you,” and every “thank you” requires an even louder “you’re welcome.”
This insincere sense of politeness is as natural as air at BC. We all do it. I certainly do. How many times have you been asked about your summer since returning to BC? How many glazed-over looks have you gotten while recounting your summer? Or perhaps you don’t bother with the recounting any longer. A simple, “Good, how was yours?” will do. Keeps things light and polite, in true BC fashion.
When I first started at BC, these pleasantries were rampant. People told me they loved their new college friends, loved their classes, loved their blossoming social lives. I grew confused and concerned. Did they really love being far from family, with only tenuous friends and well-meaning but still unfamiliar RAs as substitutes? Did they love the suffocating pressure of college coursework? Did they really love standing outside of Mod parties on Friday nights? I certainly didn’t, and with each passing week, I felt I understood love a little less. If this was love, then I wasn’t sure I wanted it.
As my friends and classmates started opening up about their own senses of unbelonging and insecurity, I understood that what had passed as love was far from it. But still, I wondered where love existed on campus. I don’t mean the love that exists on a White Mountain first date, or amid the thumping music in an overheated Mod, but rather that clean-sheets love. The love that goes unannounced and uncelebrated, a quietly understood fact of life.
Although I still hear those shallow pleasantries and insincere declarations of love, I have learned to tune them out. Instead, I listen for something a little quieter.
Sophomore year, I often came home from night shifts at White Mountain in a daze. A dull ache hummed through my feet and back, and my mind felt strung out after so many customer interactions. I wanted to sleep and eat and shower, all at once, and yet I didn’t have the energy for any of it. When I came home in this state of total physical and mental exhaustion, I often found a single bag of Cheetos resting on my pillow. My sleeping roommate lay like a saint, wholly good and generous. She always reminded me of my mother like that. As I munched on my midnight Cheetos, I could hear it, that quiet hum of love.
As I blaze through week three of senior year, I find myself thinking more and more about the difference between true acts of love and the pleasantries that often pass as them. Sometimes I worry that we may mistake politeness for kindness, hearing only the loud and insincere thank you’s, and not noticing the tiny acts of love that pop up like fresh blades of grass all over campus.
Perhaps the magic of these acts lies in their invisibility. Perhaps they only survive so long as they are unacknowledged. If that’s the case, then a simple remedy exists. We need not shout out our love from the rooftop of Gasson or declare it on Facebook. All we need to do is pay it forward. We need to act, and quickly, because so many of us feel alone and misunderstood, and sometimes the only remedy for this loneliness is a clean set of sheets and a gifted bag of Cheetos.
Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor