Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Finding togetherness with strangers

 (Tim Dominick/The State/MCT)
(Tim Dominick/The State/MCT)

No one plays the lottery to win back their $2.

I didn’t when I bought a Powerball ticket last month and neither did you, if you were one of the hundreds of millions who threw their hat into the $1.5 billion ring with me.

I waited in line for half an hour to buy my ticket. Across the country, some waited up to three hours to get theirs. In the Publix (a Florida supermarket) where I bought my ticket, the front of the store was taken over by a buzz of excitement on the day of the big drawing. My lotto line companions and I smiled at each other and talked with stars in our eyes about what we would do if we won the money. When it was my turn to buy a ticket, the man behind me said “good luck” with a wink and nod that made him look like Santa Claus. It felt like I had the whole supermarket cheering for me.

I didn’t win and I got over it quickly. What lingered with me was the air of anticipation, the adults letting themselves dream like little kids and the hopefulness I could feel emanating from strangers as they held their breaths and tickets that night.

For me, that’s enough to justify the lottery.

A couple days later, when I was on my way home from that visit to Florida, all of the flights in my terminal were delayed by about three hours.

In the bar area of the only restaurant where any of us delayed fliers could go, there was a similar sense of enthusiasm. This time, it was more surprising to me. The excitement factor is expected when winning money is involved, but flight delays seem to conjure up more discontent than eagerness. Nonetheless, as the sun set through a big glass window at the airport, a bar full of people accepted their fate and broke bread.

I was among them, and I made my own friend. A man around my dad’s age sat down next to me, and he and I talked for nearly the entire three hours. I found out that he had a daughter who was also a freshman in college. We talked about how hard it is to be away from home and how much we miss our families. We talked about music and writing and, surprisingly, Justin Bieber. It also turns out that we both over-eat french fries if no one’s there to stop us, and we both feel guilty about no longer having the attention span to read full-length books for fun.

When it was getting closer to boarding time, we parted ways with smiles. All the fragile little friendships that had been formed in the restaurant alongside ours started to fizzle out similarly as we all made our small exodus to the gates.

A few minutes later I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the man again. He handed me a book that he had just bought at Hudson News. He told me that he had read it once and it was really good, and that he thought I’d like it. I boarded my flight with a paradox in my hand – a personal gift from a complete stranger.

For me, that’s enough to justify my flight delay.

Returning to campus this month, I realized that what we do here isn’t unlike waiting in line for a lottery ticket or a waiting at a bar for a flight to take off.

College is an in-between stage. One defined by anxieties and excitements that surround the future – a future that is undefined and mysterious and hopefully something we can do together.

We’re strangers in a shared situation. We feel the same things as each other, and whether we like it or not, we are subject to the same air of influence we all create on campus.

If we wall ourselves off from each other, or convince ourselves we don’t need anyone else to get by, we miss out on the “togetherness” part of going to college. We miss out on the camaraderie of 25,000 strangers with whom we share tons – and what a missed opportunity that is.

With the new semester starting up, whether it’s your first or your last, I encourage you to open yourself up to new friendships and small moments of acquaintance alike.

Somewhere in this sea of 25,000 is someone waiting to wish you good luck when you need it. And still somewhere else is someone waiting to share a plate of french fries with you on a lonely night as the sun goes down.


Becky Wandel is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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