Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Look for those moments that make you feel alive

This is yet another piece of writing I really enjoyed and wanted to share (last one I posted was here, this is turning into its own series). You may not understand some of the references since it's by one of my favorite columnists for my college news magazine, but I think the piece can resonate with everyone. By Tracy Faud, published in North by Northwestern.

In my 9 a.m. first-year language class, seven of us are repeating the Arabic word for yes, “na’am,” over and over until it blends into a murmuring sea of num-num-num-num. In the strange and unfamiliar world of a foreign language, we cling to the words that enter easily into our consciousness, such as the affirmative “yes,” enthusiastically reassuring our professor that we understand the lesson. Despite my many na’ams, I’m unsure of what I actually comprehend when I glance at the whiteboard, my eyes ensnared by the looping, dotted script, but my mind incognizant of its meaning, not having spent the time to sound out each letter slowly in kindergartner fashion.

By the time we reach college age, we take for granted the familiarity of our surroundings. We become numb. I practically take pride in not being fazed by much, in being a bit blasé. I can receive scathing e-mails and shrug them off, skim an article about genocide while chatting about last weekend’s exploits over lunch and be reminded of my mortality during my creative nonfiction class just to forget about it seconds later.

But right now, madly tapping at my laptop on the ground floor of Norris, distracted by the snippets of Jerry Springer that seep through my music (though it’s turned up all the way), I’m worrying. I know I have to finish this column and make it cohesive and most of all make it ring true, whatever that means. People talk about the winter doldrums, but that has nothing to do with what I’m feeling. I’m not sad; I just feel like I’m floating, like maybe I’m just a shade too removed. That close to some understanding I’ll never reach because it’s 10:49 a.m. and if I give in anymore to this clenching fear that this is nonsensical and nobody will relate, I’ll be late to class. I can’t help but wonder if this is really what I’m supposed to be getting out of college; out of being young and living in a world teeming with possibilities.

So I’ll shut my laptop and go to lecture, and forget whatever existential thoughts were haunting me near the Crepe Bistro, because it takes something jarring to shake me from this languid nonchalance these days. An especially vibrant sunset, an unsettling conversation, the startling foreignness of Arabic, that’s what it takes. Or perhaps a particularly collegiate moment in class, when I can feel my brain making the bridges and grasping a novel concept, all the implications shimmering ephemerally, my thoughts taking up an almost physical presence above my head in the auditorium. But these moments of profundity at college seem few and far between. Most of the time, I feel like I’m missing the point, just narrowly. I’ll craft a perfect argument for a paper, only to feel the ideas turn to shapeless gel in my head, the meaning slipping away into the realm of forgotten concepts, perhaps never to be revisited. I’ll comprehend only half of what’s said in Arabic class, and miss the guest lecture on the conflict in Gaza that I truly, genuinely care about — I think. I can’t help but wonder if this is really what I’m supposed to be getting out of college; out of being young and living in a world teeming with possibilities.

In the overly familiar humdrum that is our daily life, I end up spending a significant amount of time thinking about what to wear, where to eat, when I’ll run into the latest object of my fickle affection, and most of all how to cross off the next item on an endless, banal to-do list. Sometimes it’s as if I live without really living, and I guess that will always be the temptation — to scrape by, just barely, to scribble down un-thought-out answers in my Arabic homework, to shove my dirty laundry further into the dusty recesses of my closet and churn out another cutesy column, week after week after week. And by and by, this is largely how we manage. It’s a survival mechanism. But there are also those moments when I feel the brisk air on my cheeks a bit more acutely, really appreciate the infiniteness of the sky, and feel my heart pounding with Presque-vu, that fleeting almost-epiphany that’s always at the periphery of my vision.

I know this is something that I will realize and unrealize and re-realize over and over again. There will always be moments when the Arabic I’m trying to read is only a tangle of guttural sounds swirling out of reach, and nothing more. But, once in a while, I drag myself out of bed early to walk on the Lakefill, or I spend an hour laughing with friends at dinner, or I meet someone who dreams really big and makes it happen. These are the times when the letters and words dance in the breeze, quivering gently. This is when everything makes sense, if only momentarily. And this is when I’m most alive.


  1. This is interesting, but I can't say that it resonates with me much. I personally don't get bored with the "humdrum that is our daily life" and I always feel "alive," whether it be emotions of pain or joy. Do you really feel like you just float from day to day without purpose or feeling like the columnist?

    1. I think the idea isn't that I'm bored, but that I'm numb to things that should affect me more than it actually does...if that makes any sense.

  2. Hmm... do you mean you no longer feel excitement for good news or feel panicked when undesirable events come to pass? Or is it feeling numb when you watch tragic news stories and movies?