When Yellow Lines Are Meant to Be Crossed

“A train is approaching momentarily. Please position yourself behind the yellow line.”

I stood by the Amtrak platform last week, waiting to (finally!) go home to New York as the automated voice repeated herself. My possessions – which consisted of typical essentials for 20-somethings, like clothing, books and hair stuff (well, that one was obvious) – were (sort of) strategically divided into three bags, coming close to my bodyweight.

On my back, I carried two organic chemistry textbooks (plus the psychological weight of the exam I took hours before. PS – trust me, that’s a lot of weight. PPS – I have never been more grateful for a class to end in my life), a guide for news writing and reporting, my planner (God forbid I go anywhere without that thing), a Cliff bar as a pathetic excuse for dinner (DO NOT try this at home kids), my laptop and charger, a makeup bag, a collection of chapsticks, hand sanitizers and lotions and other typical-Dena stuff.

My mini orange suitcase, as well as a duffel bag I borrowed from my roommate (Shira Blain is the best! 🙂 ), were stuffed with an assortment of shoes, sweaters and other important items like contacts.

In any case, it was obvious that given the facts that 1) I have the upper-body strength of a string bean and 2) I was running on less than five hours of sleep and two coffees, this situation was a bit of a struggle to say the least. And the cold doesn’t tend to help in times like this one.

“…Please position yourself behind the yellow line.”

It was her again. Didn’t she get tired of repeating herself?

I started to take a step back, though I thought I was already well in-the-clear.

If the wind of every roller coaster drop combined with that of a category-four hurricane, it may have come close to the rush I felt from the Amtrak zooming past the New Carrolton platform. The passing train practically knocked me off my feet (actually though); it removed my hat from my head and blew my hair in all sorts of crazy directions (probably best not to go into further detail on that topic haha). I felt the wind through my coat, and my knapsack suddenly felt five times heavier.

It was the type of wind you needed to recover from. A woman standing a few feet away from me re-adjusted her glasses; another man tightened his baseball cap. I secured my grip on my belongings and hoped really hard that the next train arriving would be mine.

“That’s what finals felt like,” I said to the random guy next to me after the train passed. He laughed.

“Must have been a tough semester,” he said.

Oh yes, random person. Yes it was.

Like with that wind, I actually needed time to recover from this semester – over a week, to be exact (hence why I haven’t posted anything yet lol). I finally feel like I can breathe again – fresh air that isn’t contaminated with preset priorities and deadlines.

Sure, there were the typical challenging things I was expecting this semester to bring, like balancing being a part-time reporter (aka my News Writing and Reporting II class) with learning the language of Organic Chemistry II  (yes, I will still thank God that it’s over on second reference! lol). I also had to figure out when meal-prep would fit into all of this, which posed obvious struggles.

But those were all broad, expected issues. Many of the things I actually struggled with were more nuanced – subtleties which couldn’t be accounted for until they happened.

Often, my challenge is the balancing act. How can I be a good student and a good friend and devote time to practicing Judaism and complete an internship and eat healthy and look presentable and get enough sleep but not too much sleep and read for school but also for pleasure and keep up with the blog (lol that one was a fail) and do things for myself but also for class and somehow maintain my sanity on top of it all etc. etc. etc…

This semester though, as an offshoot of those struggles (which, believe me, did exist), a new question about boundaries surfaced.

Which of my self-established “rules” should I break? Should I be redefining my norms? Are my priorities “correct”?

And, perhaps most challenging was evaluating what to do when a conflict arose between those priorities.

Not only did my news writing class push the limits of the 24-hour day, but also my own.

For example, what do you do when being a journalist requires you to ask questions, yet you’ve been quiet and reserved for your whole life? And what happens when those questions are hard to ask and involve persons of authority, two things that don’t generally mix well? How do you handle nearly shaking from discomfort yet standing your ground until you get the information you need?

What do you do when one major literally requires you to investigate the other? Can you even bring yourself to study chemistry when your final journalism article involves researching a controversial chemistry policy?

What do you do when you’re a type A person and you get a dreaded Phillip Merrill College of Journalism ‘F’ for omitting the letter ‘e’ in an article? How do you not hate yourself after typing “Smyth” instead of “Smythe,” misspelling a proper name and costing yourself 3 letter grades?

What do you do when you’re used to writing in advance, yet much of your work is dependent on others’ words, who, for some reason, seem to thrive off of getting back to you at the last second, if at all? How do you balance your (insanely early) self-made deadlines with others’ procrastination, which somehow, convolutedly, becomes your own?

How do you manage to find time for a balanced dinner when you’re assigned to cover a city council meeting that doesn’t end until 10 p.m.? How can a dietetics major (admittedly) struggle with meal prep?

This semester, I learned that it is possible, according to self-established morals, to be both “right” and “wrong,” simultaneously. Sometimes, doing what you see as “right” conflicts with something else you value, thus making it “wrong” as well. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one (or more) priorities for the sake of another.

Likewise, many decisions are neither red nor green but yellow, uncommitted to specific categories, begging to have definitive lines drawn around them, decisive boxes to hold them.  Like a strobe light, choices can vacillate between being “good” and “bad,” “stupid” and “smart,” “complex” and “simple,” “significant” and “insignificant,” “profound” and “perfunctory,” “responsible” and “irresponsible,” “healthy” and “unhealthy,” and so on.

It’s important to know what to do when “yellow” situations arise; it’s crucial to know boundaries and preferences and decide how to proceed given that information. One has to know which yellow lines to cross and when to cross them.

Take the yellow line in front of the Amtrak, for example. Cross it when the anonymous voice is speaking and get hurt, or wait until the train stops and travel to your destination.

But the Amtrak example is an obvious case. Most yellow lines don’t come with automated voices telling you what to do.

Though I crossed some yellow lines this semester, other platforms weren’t even approached. Some I may attempt to cross in the future; others I see myself standing behind indefinitely.

Either way, the trains will continue to pass.

When the Northeast Regional to New York arrived, I stepped over the yellow line and boarded, with some assistance from a nice gentleman who offered to lift my bags (while I am totally for women’s rights, I didn’t exactly feel like using that moment to advertise my girl-power lol).

However, for that other passing train, I carefully positioned myself behind the yellow line, accepting that it was not my time to board.

Perhaps if I was headed somewhere else I’d cross that line, but not today.

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