I love breaks from school, don’t get me wrong. I love the beach, spending time with family and friends and getting to peacefully sleep late without the guilt of having missed morning classes…or afternoon classes. But after a couple of days, there’s something about being away from school that makes me go stir-crazy.
Now before Stanford copy-pastes that statement and slaps it onto the cover of some recruiting pamphlet, I should clarify: There is something about being home for a week or two that doesn’t feel like real life. It makes me restless. It feels like a waiting room. Sure, it’s a really fun waiting room filled with people I love, the television isn’t permanently stuck on the local news and it doesn’t smell like old people, but it’s a waiting room nonetheless. It’s as if none of my actions have real consequences. The way I spend my day, whether positive or negative, has no lasting impact upon my normal college life at Stanford. I can’t get ahead. I can’t get behind. All I can do is wait.
This spring break, I finally got around to reading “The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis. The story describes a man that takes a bus ride from Hell to Heaven, but in this story Heaven is an extremely vivid and dense reality where the man appears only as a shadowy phantom, and Hell is a sad, mundane neighborhood known as The Grey Town. I pictured it as Boston, probably because baseball season is less than a week away and I despise the Red Sox. It’s a novel that I highly recommend. And while it is in no way a central theme, it speaks to the life-is-a-waiting-room feeling where actions appear to have little effect on “real life.”
I often lull myself into the notion that my actions primarily affect others. If I give money to a homeless man, he gets to eat. If I don’t let that lady in the Prius merge in front of me on the freeway, she gets angry. But Lewis suggests the opposite: that we are the primary beneficiary and victims of our own choices. Sure, when I give a homeless man money, he gets food, but more importantly, I become a person who values the needs of others ahead of myself. And when I don’t let that Prius in ahead of me on the 101, I become a person who values my time over others.
In every action and decision, no matter how inconsequential, we are constantly choosing who we are becoming. I’ve heard it said that, “Your future is an amplification of your present,” and our present is right now. There are people with dreams of helping the poor who are waiting until they’ve made their personal fortune so they can give out of excess. But in constantly choosing wealth over charity, one may slowly, and almost unnoticeably, become a person who values his or her comfort over the needs of others to such an extent that he or she no longer considers the poor when they have wealth. Others are working themselves to death so they can one day finally relax and be satisfied. But in continuously choosing work and stress over joy and rest, it is very possible they may slowly become a person who is no longer able to be content and satisfied. As Lewis puts it, “First they will not, in the end they cannot.” Every moment is eternally significant.
I have a friend from high school who was a very close friend for a good year or so. Then for some valid reasons and some stupid reasons for which we were both responsible, we stopped being close friends. And as of now, we’ve basically stopped talking altogether. Enough time has passed that it doesn’t bother me like it used to, but I know I need to apologize and ask for forgiveness. This choice in no way affects my future. It’s not motivated by blame or guilt or a search for closure; I’m pretty content with where I’m at right now. It’s not to make things right for the sake of a future friendship; without effort and intention, I could easily never see this person again, that’s just the way life is. But by letting things go to avoid uncomfortable confrontation, I am choosing to become a person who values pride and stubbornness over forgiveness and reconciliation. And that is a step down a road I do not want to take.
Who we are in the future is constantly decided by the choices we make right now.
For some absurd reason, Chase is an Angels fan. Help him get over his horrible taste in baseball teams at ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.