The night after Thanksgiving, I visited a damp beach in Lisbon, Portugal with a huddle of Bowdoin study-abroad students.

If you’re stuck in continental Europe, this sand is just about the closest you can get to American soil. If you’re stuck in America, there’s a candy cane of a lighthouse in Lubec, Maine—West Quoddy Head, first built in 1808 for $5,000, about four hours north of Brunswick—that is just about the closest you can get to Europe. 

Another way of thinking about this is: from Portugal, you can often catch Europe’s last sunset. From Maine, you can often catch America’s first sunrise. 

I did not visit the Lubec lighthouse during my time at Bowdoin. Like babysitting for a professor, walking through L. L. Bean in the middle of the night, or joining an intramural team, it is something I thought I would do. Bowdoin after all was once the first college in America to see the sunrise, a fact I was reminded of every time I walked across the tired wax of Smith Union’s giant linoleum sun. 

But if I once longed for superlatives and hyperboles (being the farthest East! Seeing those first red rays!) I now longed for closeness—a collapse of time or space, a quick reunion with Super Snack. This beach was, literally, the nearest I could get. 

You have probably seen Lynchville, Maine’s “international” signpost, a 1940s-era sign displaying directions to—among other local towns—Paris (15 miles, turn right) and Peru (46 miles, left). I’m living in Italy for the year, in rural Sicily, and I sometimes find myself wanting to come upon a sign a like this: a real one though, with a neat list of mileages to my parents in Oregon, my sister in Rhode Island, my friends in Maine, Utah, China, Mexico. 

In the weeks after graduation, the first novel I read was “Mating,” by Norman Rush. It was worth the raised eyebrows I got on the airplane. The narrator is a wry female anthropology student working on her thesis in rural Botswana in the early 1980s. To say that I related to her isolation is an understatement. 

When I arrived in Sicily—working remotely for a woman I hadn’t met, living in an empty villa without a car, surrounded by hundreds of acres of vineyards and waves of 100-degree heat—I could go days at a time saying only a few sentences.

I didn’t speak Italian, and no one around me spoke English. Terrified of sounding like an idiot, I chose to feel like one instead, and I kept to myself. Before bed, I swatted mosquitos and read Rush in my basement room, which has one small, barred window and a wardrobe quilted in pink, floral satin. 

There is a great line in “Mating” where the narrator talks about her “lore package.” As I understand it, this is the narrative shield we carry to make sense of—and make safe of—the world. She chooses to believe that lions are “torpid during the day,” thus buying herself a break from fear. 

Since graduation, I’ve been assembling and dissembling my own lore package, trying to decide what myths I will hold onto. Some are easy to keep: things that I recycle will not end up in foreign landfills, my freckles will not become skin cancer, snakes do not come into houses. 

Others are harder. I tell myself that with May’s commencement anniversary, I will no longer catch myself imagining a walk across the Quad, or a Coles Tower party. Twelve months, and I’ll be cushioned by the new, raw post-grad state of the Class of 2015. I think of it almost on medical terms. Get through this flu season, and I’ll breathe easy for decades.  

And in reality, that Portuguese beach was a rare indulgence. I rarely let myself miss Brunswick these days. I miss friends, sure, but with Facetime and Facebook and facing emails, those ocean-miles can quickly feel insignificant. 

At dinner that night in Lisbon—after over-sauced fish, fluorescent lighting and a free round of port—a friend had interrupted the conversation to ask, point blank, if I felt lonely in Sicily. 

I surprised myself when I realized that, at the end of the day, I was not. 

This is one thing I am removing from my lore package, then: hyper-connection as a means of self-betterment. I hauled this aim through adolescence without questioning it.

Now, apart from the handful of people I work with every week, there is nobody to make me wonder if I should be connecting more, or if I’m connecting right. There is nowhere to go after 10 p.m., so there is nothing to FOMO. Sheer physical impossibility means social interaction can’t be my goal. Strangely, it’s a relief. It’s life off the hook.

I’m living a sort of grotesque caricature of the watered down “life per second” that Toph Tucker ’12 wrote about as a post-graduate on this same page last year. It’s glaringly obvious that my life here can’t approximate the density of college. I might be spared something in this. 

When I visited home for the holidays—flying both transatlantic and trans-America, across over 6,000 miles of salted water and frozen earth—I happily resumed my social rhythms. But on the days and nights when I stayed home, I let myself feel a flicker of satisfaction. 

I felt a thrill of self-sufficiency, a slight shock that I wasn’t trying to distract myself from myself. Bowdoin taught me lots of things—its people taught me lots of things—but I’m not sure I learned how to sit tight with my own heartbeat. I didn’t have to. 

On January 30, Brazil celebrated Saudade Day, in honor of the Portuguese word that imbues Lisbon’s blue-tiled alleys and seven hills. Saudade connotes a state of deep nostalgia and, often, a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. 

In 1660, Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo described the feeling as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.”

The sentiment seems an inevitable part of growing up, taking stock and looking back. I dare you to stare across the ocean and not feel a tinge of it. But if I sometimes feel this way—a loss of community or childhood or dream—it’s on de Melo’s terms. 

After all, there is a quiet pleasure and enjoyment in realizing you have something to miss. 
And when it feels lonely, you have your lore.

Erica Berry is a member of the Class of 2014.