The Meaningful Life

Don’t let finals make you lose sight of what’s important

Part of the problem with being a columnist—and a Harvard student—is that you have such an aggressive focus on the fleeting that you often forget to step back and remember what actually matters in the grand scheme of things.

There’s no shortage of religion topics I could write about to round off the semester, but most of those headlines won’t matter a few months from now. Like that Gen Ed course you’ve been slacking on or that 25-page paper you’ve barely started researching, these things tend to get subsumed with the ebb and flow of time. Years from now, when you look back on your Harvard experience while pursuing your calling in the world, a letter on a piece of paper will matter much less than you think it will. In our stress-filled pressure cooker of a university, we would do well, every once in a while, to take a break for a moment and regain some perspective.

So for my last column of the semester, before I and everyone else on this campus burrows themselves into Lamont for the day, I want to talk about a baby.

His name is Yehuda Shmuel (Judah Samuel), and he’s just under three weeks old. He has a full head of hair and a mischievous smile when the light strikes him properly. He was circumcised and named two weeks ago at the Hillel, as the first child of Rabbi Ben Greenberg and Rabbanit Sharon, the Orthodox rabbinic advisors.

Over tuna salad, pastries, and matzah—it was Passover, after all—the glowing couple reiterated their love for each other in front of a room full of friends and family. Ashkenazi Jews have a custom of naming children after relatives who have passed on, and Yehuda Shmuel bears the name of four of his ancestors, two on each side of Ben and Sharon’s family. It’s a beautiful custom. Through his name, Yehuda becomes a part of a legacy greater than he could possibly imagine, and a testament to the cyclical nature of life. He holds names that have been passed on for generations, and will God willing be passed on for generations to come.

I’ve seen Yehuda quite a few times over the past number of weeks, and somehow it’s hard to stay stressed about work while watching him fall asleep in his mother’s snuggie. Sometimes it takes the awed reaction of a newborn to things that had long become mundane to you to force you to take your myopic focus off deadlines for a second and consider the big picture.

So consider this: When was the last time we simply let ourselves relax for a moment and smile over the fact that we’re young and have our entire lives ahead of us? That we live in a world of incredible beauty beyond the meaningless idiosyncrasies of the world that we establish for ourselves on this campus? When was the last time we called a parent or a sibling and just had a conversation? When was the last time we exhaled and reminded ourselves that there’s more to life than what we see around us now?

The day after Yehuda’s circumcision, instead of going back to work after hitting the gym, I went down to the Charles and just sat on the grass. The weather was stunning. A family of four sat and ate sandwiches on a picnic spread while their young daughter ran in the sun. A young couple sat on a blanket in each other’s arms a few feet away from an elderly couple, watching the ducks float by across the river. Time slowed for a moment as I considered the currents of life around me.

And for one fleeting moment, I remembered why I came here in the first place.

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