Happy Sunday y’all,
It’s a quiet day in Lexington at the beginning of a frantic week. I write this as I’m curled up in my house, pumpkin muffins baking, preparing to hunker down for my two assignments due today and two exams tomorrow. It feels like the part of the year when the beginning adrenaline wears off, when the daily starts to feel like the daily, when your body’s just a little bit too tired. But it’s been a good year.
This’ll be a quick post because, as I’ve mentioned, two exams. (I’m a humanities major; I’m used to papers, so accounting and chemistry are unfamiliar domains for me.) But I often reflect on everything I’m grateful for, all the little bits of my life that add up to make me happy and appreciative.
I gravitate more towards a philosophy of fulfillment rather than bliss. The texture of hardships feels necessary to appreciate the good. Certain experiences and relationships are only meaningful because you work through them and accept the natural dips and peaks. Doing poorly at something reminds you how much you care about a pursuit. Missing people reminds you that you love them. Running out of time forces you to be intentional.
To a certain extent, gratitude feels more conducive to being good to others than simply chasing delight. This morning, I read a Brain Pickings piece about Ursula K. Le Guin’s words on suffering and pain, and loved the phrasing.
If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home… Fulfillment… is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal… It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over.
We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.
One of the discussions I’ve had with friends lately, in the wake of certain tragedies, is about what it means when people say that you’re strong. Over the summer, I read How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, an anecdotal and casual look at how to help out when somebody’s suffering. One of the main points was that that phrase doesn’t feel helpful because being strong isn’t a choice; you have no other option, and so it doesn’t necessarily feel like a compliment. Comfort feels different from blind acceptance in acknowledging the value of everything someone’s been through.
I read it because I wanted to compare how I treat others to what would be most helpful. In hindsight, I’m glad for that read because I can apply it to help friends through rough patches, to fully understand the values of the friendships I care about senior year, and to be effective when I volunteer. It’s one of the books that’s shaped my gratitude for those around me and for the opportunities I have ahead.
Senior year has been refreshing and comforting in that everyone’s dealing with a newfound acceptance or reevaluation of their identity. It’s been a full three years, crammed with a variety of experiences, and now it’s just time to relish all of it and prioritize the things that matter in the end.
I’m a huge happy list girl. I love to make lists of all the little bits of my day that bring me joy. There’s plenty of science that maintains that spending a few minutes a day compiling your gratitude is so good for you. It’s a natural practice for me, mostly because I want to remember all the details of a given time and place, but I’ve been especially conscious of it senior year. I do Lexington-specific ones at Happy List Lex, and maintain a running list on a blog page.
My mood in writing this is more curious than anything else. What matters to you? Who matters to you? How do you show it?
One of my most poignant reads comes back to me now. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks is a marvel, a poignant and understated read in reflection on a well-lived life.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
Even as I go to bury myself in the library for an afternoon, fueled by espresso and vague stress, I’m glad to be here and have my time to look back on, and now I’m just appreciating all the pieces.