A Time for Living: The Press of Work and Time Can Strip Our Lives of Meaning
Leaving home the second time is a lot harder than leaving the first time. So I discovered after my two week vacation in California during the winter break. Somehow the butterflies in one's stomach fly a little bit more furiously and seem to acquire fangs - somewhat more like bats rollicking out of control inside a dark cave.
I believe there are three types of languages in the world: those that are spoken, those that are written, and those that are felt. And while spoken language can be be put into written language and vice versa, the language of feeling, though universal, can rarely be translated to either. Thus it is hard to explain why I feel the way I do.
Perhaps the first time I left home I had a mission to explore a new frontier: to see how an east coast city like Boston compared to California, to see how the architectural styles differed, how much louder or softer the fans cheered for their basketball and football teams, or how much more citizens participated in city elections. This exploratory bent wasn't there the second time I left home. Not to mention that I also knew what I was missing by the second time I returned home.
"Sweet memories are the paradise of the mind," read the message in a fortune cookie I picked up at dinner not too long ago after coming back to Cambridge. Rarely are fortune cookies very accurate or timely in their statements. The previous one I received employed a slightly incisive tone, reading, "Everyone thinks you are the best." In contrast, this message really hit it home. In my paradise, I go flower to flower through he garden as sprightly butterfly, picking and stowing them away in memory's basket.
The fortune cookie I cracked open reminded me of an Ernest Dowson poem I once read as a child and committed to memory:
Vitae Summae Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam [The Brief Sum of Life Forbids Us the Hope of Enduring Long
They are not long, the weeping and the
Love, Desire, and Hate,
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and
Out of a dream,
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
The passage of time is a theme as old as history itself, and everyday it confronts us square in the face. In a sense, to an observer, the concept of time is utterly ludicrous, since time is a human invention, and nature is not so one-dimensional. The entire experience of leaving home and reliving past memories has given me perspective to see how fast life veers towards its end and how quickly the threads that bind people, civilizations, cultures, and history can snap.
Here at MIT, we are often too embroiled in studies and life in the fast lane that we do not take time step back to enjoy what will be the best years of our life. How many of us, for instance, have read a good book lately, exploring the world of Proust and Henry James and Dickens? I haven't, and I long for the feeling of reading a good book in bed. Since coming here, I haven't bought a single book outside of classes.
And how many of us have gone to the Boston symphony, a museum, or seen a good movie - one not merely rehashing the same old plot line of terrorists and love triangles but touching us on a spiritual level? Iknow I haven't, and I also know that such opportunities will not come so freely later in life. As William Wordsworth said, "The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, laying waste to our powers." Unable to behold the outside from the inside, we have become caught up in the intensity of a culture that feeds intensity.
All of reason in a sense is nothing but another religion. But memories, emotions, feelings -these live on for eternity. E.B. White once wrote about the sensation of letting " your mind return into the grooves that lead back" to past memories. What grooves shall we have to return to, what memories will we have to relive if we spend a good portion of our time burning over our studies.
This year I resolve to do a little bit more exploring and memory-making, to be a bit more religious and strong, than in the year before.