I love the view from my window.
Low Steps, College Walk, South Lawn, and everything between 114th Street and the squat dome of Low Library fits cozily into a square in my wall. The 11th floor of John Jay is high enough that the treetops appear as rounded whorls of twinkling leaves, and the roofs of buildings like Hamilton are as level as the horizon—the view across, clear and straight. It’s a perfect place from which to look without moving too close, the illusion of a Picasso-like collage surviving in the vast stretch of empty air between beauty and the beholder. As the face of Columbia changes with the seasons, I watch each expression appear outside my window and begin to recognize what brings them to the surface.
When the sun is out, it’s the colors I notice: rich, green squares of grass edged by red pathways and gray limestone that glow with warmth, and all of it mirrored by the granite-brick walls and faded copper roofs of Morningside’s architecture. Overhead, blue sky wraps around the steely skyscrapers that hint at the New York right outside our walls.
When it’s rainy, I notice the people. Professors in trench coats and windbreakers shuffle toward Low or Philosophy, bent low to shield papers from water stains. Students scurry around in packs, either grievously underdressed or amusingly overdressed, clutching thermoses of coffee and praying for their hair. A colony of umbrellas spring up like button mushrooms, miraculously possessing legs that let them parade across College Walk, bobbing along in an overbalanced waddle through the haze of raindrops.
But my favorite time to look out of my window is at night. No colors—only tints and tones whispering about what they might be in the morning. No people—just the occasional wild shout from Low Steps and a burst of singing that fades with the stamina or the interest of the singer. Instead, Columbia is made of light. The heads of lamps on South Lawn and College Walk spell out a Morse code message through the darkness that cannot be translated into words or thoughts, but into a simple feeling of protection and goodwill. The night-lights that greeted Peter Pan in the Darling household were never so comforting as the lampposts that shine across our Morningside campus deep in the night.
Somewhere along the way, maybe when I was working on an overdue paper, or eating at JJ’s Place, or coming out of the subway with blisters on my heels and tingling fingertips, Columbia became my home. I live here, eat here, sleep here, and do everything else here that I have spent my entire life doing primarily with my family. Having given up the blinds of privacy that keep us so far apart and letting Columbia University see me at my worst and my best, I have no choice but to call it a part of my family—something that is easier to return to than to leave. And if it has become so close to me, I must return the favor by moving closer to it, paying respect by paying attention. The little secrets of this campus, from the ways in which people navigate Low Steps to the different games of Frisbee played in front of Butler, are mine to glimpse and gather into an understanding.
I watch, I learn, I know. Columbia is made up of so many parts that I can never hope to finish the puzzle and see it as a whole, with every twist and turn justified by those around it. It’s bigger than I am, bigger than the matrix of nighttime lamps, or the soft green of aged copper, or a paisley umbrella spinning in the rain. But seeing these things—and remembering them—is my way of expressing my love for my new home.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.