“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’ve learned to appreciate the occasional reality check; the ones where you accidentally slip over the deceptive black ice or miss a step while rushing down the stairs. But I haven’t yet fully learned that reality constantly presents itself in lovelier, seldom appreciated forms. This week, my life seemed full of contradictions: for emergency reasons, my loved ones traveled halfway across the world without me; my schedule seemed packed with too many assignments, exams, and obligations to cram into one week; I came down with a seasonal fever and cold that left me feeling drained, hopeless, and miserable. Due to this unfortunate combination of events, I began reverting to my old way of thinking, and imagining that I was in control of everything.
This notion may sound silly; many people may even argue that indeed, we are always in control of everything. If we want something done and work hard enough, we will surely yield desirable results. I certainly sympathize with this type of thinking, but if it were always the case, life would unfold just the way we planned. While I fumbled through this frustrating abyss of confusion, life forced me to smile and breath.
My Wednesday morning began cheerfully, until I looked at the time and realized that I had less than five minutes to get to Blodgett for a 9:00 class. I scrambled to pull on the first clothes I found and raced down the path behind Noyes and Cushing, frantically shifting my gaze from my watch to the long road ahead. During this rapid occasion of simultaneous time-checking and speed-walking, my eyes drifted towards the cemetery, which is rather ironic because I had class on the North side of campus all of last semester and the long rows of tombstones never before caught my attention.
I slowed down.
Why? Why stop for a long row of tombstones scattered across my vision? Because, I realized, those were once people too—people who also had busy lives like mine, lives that overflowed with meetings, times, and schedules. Those people of the past also hugged friends, kissed family, shed tears, and envisioned great dreams. All of the struggles I thought I faced were nothing new. Seeing the past generations lying before me, I finally discovered that everything comes to an end. While this idea may disturb other people, it inspired me. If life ends, then my burdens will end somehow, too.
Yet I am a forgetful creature of habit. By nightfall that same day, I was walking past Main and heading back to Strong—speed walking, more like, because I felt tha I held the world firmly within my grasp. Thus, my sleep-deprived and oh-so logical-brain told me, “Rushing back to your dorm will only help you cross out everything left on your never-ending to-do list and be successful.”
I am my own destiny, of course, to a certain degree, since I can certainly change whatever is indeed changeable. But as I approached the familiar path leading to the Strong door, a sudden gust of wind nipped at my uncovered face, and I felt my hair coming loose and wildly moving in the breeze. Call it nature, Mother Earth, inner spirits, God, coincidence, or any other force of being, but in the midst of that freezing gust of wind, my eyes wandered upwards and fixed upon the glowing moon. For the second time that day, I stopped and stared in wonder.
There’s a difference between praise and gratitude. Praise is that moment of speechlessness when I allow the shimmering moon to softly bathe my shadow in its glowing rays. Gratitude is when I let minutes pass, quietly gazing at this beautiful net of ebony sky and glowing stars, understanding that there is only so much I can do before letting go and accepting whatever comes.
What am I trying to say with all this deep, philosophical thought? I’m trying to encourage you to stop and really savor the subtleties that you encounter every day. Mental and emotional baggage can truly drain the life out of someone, and no one else can notice or tell you about these subtleties; only you will truly know. I’m trying to encourage you to accept life’s hurdles as signs to step back and slow down—count the shimmering stars, watch the clouds on a sunny day, breath deeply, and who knows? Life may just get better.