Hope Still Exists When All Else Fails

The world has been pretty terrible lately. You don’t have to look far in the headlines to find tragedy. The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown–among many others–show us that racism is still blatant 50 years after the Civil Rights movement. The Taliban just killed over 140 innocent people in a Pakistani school. There is no time or place where murder at a school could ever be acceptable, and the United States is far from immune to this. Two years ago this week, a man opened fire at an elementary school in Connecticut. I don’t think I will ever come to terms with that event.

There is so much suffering and poverty and inequality and injustice in the world and I don’t know how to stop it. Every day, so many horrific things happen and I am so acutely aware of them, yet I have the audacity to continue living in my blissful daily existence. I keep trying to put into words the magnitude of these events and how much they matter, but words will not reverse the consequences that already took place. I don’t know if I can adequately express the weight of these injustices, and I don’t think my attempts to dwell on these tragedies will solve anything. Because somehow, amidst all this grief, I still have hope. I still believe above all else that the world is not doomed and that humanity can and will make life more bearable. I’m sure that many educated people would call this hope misguided or unreliable, but it’s the only thing I have.

Perhaps my ridiculously comfortable existence enables me to have this hope. This is all because I’m so lucky. Lucky I was born white. Lucky I can afford a college education. Lucky my family is stable and alive. Lucky I can type coherent thoughts. I’m so aware of my privilege, yet so oblivious to the implications. I will never know what it feels like to walk on a street with the constant worry that a police officer might mistake me for a criminal and kill me. I will never know what it feels like to live in a country where bombs and air raids could rain down at any time. I will never know what it feels like to grow up in an impoverished family in a dangerous area.

Maybe I should feel guilty about this. I don’t, but I’m aware of it and uncertain about my lack of guilt and where it leaves me. If I am happy with all these privileges I have both received and earned, what does that mean for the rest of the world? Should I just feel sorry for the Pakistanis who are affected by the Taliban’s cruelty, or am I obligated through my privilege to do something about it? And how the hell do I do something about it? Right now it seems that my only option is to be a voice. I’m so conflicted and confused about my place in the scheme of this cruel world, but the conversation has to start somewhere.

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When tragedies happen, I never know how to respond. There is nothing I can say or do that would make them less painful, and sometimes the only thing I can offer is my own sympathy. Ultimately, that does not help anyone but myself. Still, I believe that world peace is possible, and I think that a more peaceful world is likely. Coming from a human perspective, not a religious one, I must ground my hope in a faith that humanity is capable of more good than evil. That someday, we can all be at least a little more equal and a little less cruel.

I have so much I want to know and understand and think and say and feel but I don’t know where to start and I’m not convinced that I know where I’m headed at all. Maybe personal happiness is the answer. Maybe it’s love. Stephen Hawking seems to think so. The movie The Theory of Everything is less about Hawking’s scientific achievements and more about his relationships with people. If one of the most brilliant people alive recognizes the impact and influence of human relationships, perhaps we should follow his lead.

Maybe all this world needs is a little more compassion and recognition of everyone’s own humanity. If we can look into another person’s eyes and realize that behind those eyes lies a lifetime of dreams and fears and experiences, then we can begin to understand that in the end, we are all connected because we have lived. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so quick to kill.

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The Battle Against the Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is the magical place we all know and love where we can fall into a drone of indifference knowing nothing unpleasant can touch us. The comfort zone thrives on apathy and routine because routine enables thoughts to cease and ambitions to dissolve. In this life, we know what we like and what we do not like, so things make sense. Change is unnecessary because complacency takes control.

I am terrified of the comfort zone because it is the antithesis of the meaningful life I intend to live.

It is so easy to sit back and let life pass by while making as little noise as possible. And sometimes, I fear that I will fall into this habit. Sure, I have vested interest in school and other activities that propels me forward, but this might not be enough. Stagnation can strike at any time, and when I find myself at the end of a day with no tangible evidence that I accomplished anything, I feel powerless. Anyone can tell you that the key to success is consistency and diligence, but no one will tell you how hard it is to embrace this.

These tree is cool because it's complex and unique just like you.

These tree is cool because it’s complex and unique just like you.

In theory, anyone with a healthy zest for life should be able to achieve a meaningful life effortlessly, but it’s not that simple. Because the things that matter most require you to both challenge yourself and do so with insane courage. Laying in bed all day watching Netflix might feel awesome at the time, but it’s probably not going to make you a better person. For some people, this is not an issue. These people will accept their average life and continue living this way, following the convenient path taken many times before them. They may or may not be happy or satisfied, but they will definitely be comfortable.

I could never live this way because I want more than anything to lead an extraordinary life. And this might be the hardest thing in the world. Most prominent voices in society insist that I should accept the pre-determined path laid before me and walk along it without pausing to consider the implications. These voices fear that any rogue movement will disrupt the delicate balance and structure in which modern society exists. Because when we resist the majority, we incite change, and change makes things harder. It makes us think about things usually decided for us and make choices that allow us to be heard rather than told.

Awesome hiking paths like this only exist outside the comfort zone.

Awesome hiking paths like this only exist outside the comfort zone.

Like always, running is a perfect representation of why the comfort zone sabotages excellence. Any runner knows that the only way to get better is to shatter previously concrete limits and embrace the discomfort that follows. The pain is always temporary, and it is always worth it. Runners battle this weekly, if not daily, but like a friend once told me, “as we run, we conquer.” At its core, running is a battle to defeat our lesser, former selves. But no battle was ever fought from a comfortable position.

In running and in life, I sometimes find myself inching toward mediocrity, and I must fight fearlessly to resist it. I think that the one thing that always saves me is that I care. A lot. I care that my impact on the world and on others is positive and I care that what I do matters. It is because I care that whenever I toe the edge of ambivalence I can never take the full leap. There’s something that always pulls me back and reminds me that I have dreams waiting for me where I left them. So instead of spiraling to a place where each day is not automatically miraculous in its own right, I remind myself that average is simply not an option.

This choice, to become exceptional, means that every day and every moment will present a challenge to ignore the majority and instead cultivate something valuable. This will never be easy, but it will always be important. And from my stance, the most worthwhile thing anyone can do is live an intentionally remarkable life.

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”

-Mary Oliver

Streaking and Other Forms of Freedom

Last Saturday night, at approximately 9:28 p.m., my best friend and I ran down a dark path completely naked. This was not my first experience streaking, but it was hers, and it was glorious.

Ten minutes earlier, we sat in her car in a parking lot contemplating what the night might present. We had already devoured sushi and coconut ice cream, so we were energized and prepared for adventure. The rain pelted her sunroof and she considered opening it to see what would happen, but ultimately valued the function of her possessions over the unknown of the experiment.

“You know, I’ve never just laid in the street in the rain before,” she said. “Like that’s something I’ve never experienced.”

“Let’s do it,” I replied, then added, “Naked.” We laughed, but then the conversation continued. Eventually, we agreed that streaking was an excellent idea, so we drove to an unlit bike path with racing hearts.

After several minutes of coaxing and pep talks, we were off and running. We danced and hollered and revelled in our freedom before ducking back into the car fully clothed and giggling. Three minutes later, a group of people strolled by completely unaware of the scene they had narrowly missed and our adrenaline escalated once again.

The rest of the night naturally progressed into a Beyonce dance party and I fell asleep feeling more exhilarated and free than I had in weeks.

The whole concept of personal freedom has occupied a significant portion of my brain space lately. Between school, running and relationships, I often feel that my ability to exist in my preferred free state is virtually impossible. In typical stubborn fashion, I struggle to accept anything less than that and blame the world for my lack of internal content. Obviously, it is completely my own fault, but I live for moments and stories, and the best of these occur when I am entirely uninhibited by societal expectations.

I tell myself that amid midterms and responsibilities I simply cannot reach adequate freedom and must wait until summer to capture these moments. I have become obsessed with songs that confirm this. Songs like Free by Rudimental and Cactus Tree by Joni Mitchell that figuratively stab me in the heart. I firmly believe in this lack of freedom most of the time. Except when I prove myself wrong, like Saturday night. Because in that moment, I thought of nothing but the steady rain and the glowing moon enveloping me in the infinite night.

In all honesty, I will never be as free as I want. The only way to achieve this would be to follow in Chris McCandless’s footsteps and abandon everything. But I cannot do that, or at least not right now. I value the people in my life too much. I enjoy too many benefits from my academic and athletic time commitments. And I am too happy in the situation that is presently my life.

So for right now, I will accept the freedom that I find in my life’s snapshots for everything it entails. I will frolic naked in the rain; I will spontaneously pierce my ear; I will dance unrestricted at concerts; and I will savor every one of these moments with all of my senses. Because when I can be that free, I want to remember every detail.