“What would you say to a million people if you had the chance?”
That’s the question that prompted students in Designing Conversational Spaces, a course offered by NYU ITP, to launch a social interaction experiment called The Listserve. Once an individual subscribes, he or she has a 1/20000+ chance of being chosen to write to an international audience.
And on a random Thursday afternoon, I was chosen to write for it.
Several ideas tumbled around in my mind, colliding in various ways but never lighting a spark. I could write about how the greatest failure of my life marked the beginning of my adulthood. Or about my curious obsession with post-it notes, about my most treasured possession (a clear, non-functioning, hand-crafted umbrella with photos pasted on the underside) …or, how a certain chord in Beethoven’s Op 109 sonata wraps around my heart like a silky scarf. Which of those could be most meaningful to an arbitrary stranger on the other side of the world?
But instead, I chose to write about Pomona College, and how my journey here has complemented and been complemented by my personal perspective on life.
Below is the exact email that was sent out:
Initial excitement slowly dissipated into agony over what I, an 18-year-old college student, could possibly contribute to your life. As the generous 48-hour period faded, disparate ideas tumbled in my mind, colliding but never forming coherent connections – until I realized the purpose of this golden 48-hour opportunity is not to be didactic, but to offer my organic approach to life.
Annual traditions. Weekly obligations. The daily commute to work. All quite common occurrences at throughout my 18 years. Yet what keeps these seemingly repetitive events from being stale, boring, and taken for granted is that each time the calender rolls around, they have served as checkpoints for my intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth. We often value the last concert, or last meal with a friend, as moments to reflect, but what about all the intermediate experiences that could serve even more nuanced purposes and affect how we continue to seeing these experiences?
Many indelible memories and experiences point to a certain paradox that I’ve gained a deeper understanding of every year: repetition of similar events illuminates contrast and change.
1. Harmonizing with friends while we wait for the train; peering behind heavy, velvet curtains before a concert – both mellow but blissful details of my friendship with choir friends. Perhaps the most meaningful memories are the repeated ones: singing on the same concert stage, in the same dress, with the same people, provides opportunity to consider what HAS changed and highlights how I have developed a deeper friendship with these people, more love for my choir, and more appreciation for music.
2. Peeling a fleshy Costa Rican mango, feeling the warm juice trickle down my cheeks and leave sticky squiggles on my face as I crinkle my nose and sink into my chair after a long day of building and teaching – every high-schooler at my Christian high school embarks on a service trip every spring, where where year after year, we cultivate a deeper, more Christ-like mentality for service. As we served others until exhaustion, we became more sensitized to not our own contribution, but the sacrificial acts of those teachers who taught us that service is valuable, even if our sacrifices go unrecognized.
3. As I walk down the now all-too-familiar quad of my college, I suddenly considered the drastic difference between the girl who stood there five months ago, super uncertain about whether to commit to the school, and the girl who now uses the contrast between that uncertainty and her present love for the school to deeply appreciate the introspection she underwent to arrive at the best decision she’s made thus far in her life. I pull out a voice recording from when I visited the college five months ago, my indecisive voice sounding so foreign because of the many heartbreaking and heartwarming events that occurred between the voice of the girl I hear through my phone and the voice of the girl who now is able to tell others confidently where God wants her to be for the next four years. And every time I walk through this quad, I’m reminded of His provision and guidance – reminders I’ll relive every time I walk through this quad and promises I’ll need to hold onto tenaciously for future moments of uncertainty and struggle.
From formal events such as returning to the same concert stage, to overlooked events such as walking down a certain road, many experiences have the potential to illuminate the contrast between our former and present selves and highlight our growth in ways both tangible and intangible.
May you revel in the fulfilling satisfaction of expanding your mind to understand yourself deeper, and expanding your soul to find deeper joy in treating every moment as a transformative privilege.
What have been meaningful repetitions in your life?