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Life Happens When …

By Madison A. Shirazi
By William Y. Yao, Contributing Opinion Writer
William Y. Yao ’22, a former Crimson Technology Chair, is an Applied Math concentrator in Kirkland House. His column "A Memoir Of Our Own" appears on alternate Tuesdays.

After spending much of the Covid year reading memoirs, I pitched this column with the simple thought that we could all, someday, be inspired to write memoirs of our own. You don’t have to be famous, renowned or anything like that. You don’t have to be a writer, or even think of yourself as someone who is crafty with words. I believe people should write more about themselves. Everyone has their own story, but too many of them go unwritten, unappreciated, unsavored.

Starting in September, together we’ve explored quite a few memoirs through this column, and I’ve tried my best to give my personal spin on what each of them has meant to me.

We talked about chess and how it can teach us to find the new in the old. I shared my perspective on what mentorship means to me, and how mentors can be found all around us. Through the simple metaphor of running, we saw how our lives are full of unexpected intersections and combinations that are truly invaluable. We examined the fascinating relationship between teaching and learning, and how through both, the unusual can become the usual. We learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia’s unlikely friendship, and the strength of finding our voice and our words. And, most recently, I reminisced fondly on some of my earliest musical memories and realized how vital such formative moments are in making us who we become.

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve reached that final stage of the fall semester. The post-Harvard-Yale Game (Go Crimson!), post-Thanksgiving part where final projects, papers, and exams pile on relentlessly and without respite until, all of a sudden, it’s winter break. Maybe more than a few performances for student groups and house formals are marking up your calendar as well this time of year.

So, fittingly, this column also meets its denouement.

There’s one more message that I think runs through all the (perhaps seemingly independent) ideas we’ve talked about together. And that is to savor the moment we are in. Was it John Lennon who once sang, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans?”

Life happens when, from a game of chess, we make a new friend, or renew an old friendship. Life happens when, one day, you meet someone who shares a part of their story with you, and they become an irreplaceable mentor. Life happens when you stumble across an unexpected intersection or fusion of ideas, and it brings out entirely new meaning by creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Life happens at Harvard, when we, in the middle of the juggling act of academics, social and extracurricular life, find a way to savor the opportunities and blessings we have.

I’m in my senior year, and I am forced to think — nay worry — more and more about what lies ahead, what I will do, where and who I will be, after graduation. I’m sure my fellow seniors feel the same. But aren’t we all going through a transition of some kind constantly? Time ensures that we are constantly experiencing the end of one thing, just to give way to the beginning of the next. Our minds are perennially occupied by preparing for this next thing — planning, rehearsing, practicing. It can be challenging to fight this urge, but life happens when we can be fully present to our current time, place, and circumstance.

We often hear of the prudence of planning ahead. We also learn of the virtues of looking back, of learning from the past. Savoring the moment is the thing right in between those two. It happens in the millisecond, blink-of-an-eye moments that we’re all living and experiencing all the time, yet that can pass us by so easily. It’s not about the future, or the past, but the present.

I really hope we can savor our present. It will only make our memories crisper when we, one day, sit down to write them.

William Y. Yao ’22, a former Crimson Technology Chair, is an Applied Math concentrator in Kirkland House. His column "A Memoir Of Our Own" appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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