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Columns

The Real World?

The here and now is worth relishing

By Jennifer A. Gathright

Now I walk in beauty

Beauty is before me

Beauty is behind me

Above me and below me

Around me and within me

—Traditional Navajo Spiritual

Before I went back to school this year, I cleaned up the desktop of my computer. Pre-purge, my computer desktop was a scary place. Folders and rogue documents were splattered all over the screen, tragically obscuring the elephant wallpaper I had so carefully downloaded from National Geographic’s website. High school assignments still lurked in the corners of my screen, wedged between embarrassingly funny lolcatz screenshots from 2010.

It felt great to come to school with an empty desktop. But, within a week of being back at school, miscellaneous items once again began to invade my pristine screen.

Sometimes, I go through phases where I try to fool myself into believing that my time here at school runs like a well-oiled machine. I add things to my Google calendar and filter my Gmail inbox like all the cool kids. Things are great, right? But my desktop never lies, and I’ve decided that I’m going to have to start learning how to live without seeing all that National Geographic has to offer.

It was a tradition at my high school to gather and sing a Navajo prayer at the school Thanksgiving assembly every fall. “Now I walk in beauty,” we sang. The prayer insists that beauty is before us, behind us, above, below, around, and within us. In other words, it’s everywhere. Beauty hides behind the folder titled “Random” on my desktop. It lurks between the punctuation marks of that one email to which we haven’t responded for an awkwardly long time.

I sometimes have this idea that I need to get my life in order before I can afford myself the enjoyment of living it. I trick myself into believing that it’s okay to be spending this time figuring out who I want to be instead of just being the way I am now. But, amidst this Chaos of Figuring Out exists the beauty of our present experience. As Dean Khurana stressed in his speech to freshmen at this year’s Convocation, college isn’t just our preparation for life after college. College is also life.

I don’t necessarily believe happiness to be a choice: After all, sometimes it just isn’t. However, I do insist that there is an art to our experience worth relishing. So, I resolve to walk in beauty, even when I am blinded by the glare in the Science Center Plaza.

I took a class last year on classical Sanskrit literature in which we discussed the concept of rasa, an aestheticized emotion. I am still no Sanskritist, but my understanding is that rasa is like a universalized form of a specific emotion. My professor compared it to the feeling one gets while watching a tragic movie. First, one may feel sad for the specific characters in the movie. But, some viewers may experience a broader sort of Sadness, a feeling that makes one feel so universally human that it causes a sort of bliss. That viewer may think, “I am a human, and I feel sad. And that makes me feel connected to the world.” This large Sadness becomes an emotion worth relishing.

I want this column to be an exploration of how to relish the right now. We have been given a gift here, but we are often so stressed out about how to make the most of it that we miss the mark. Not everything about this place is rosy and perfect, and we must think critically about our time here and what it means. Dialogue is necessary to address some of the structural, institutional, and cultural barriers that impede our development here at Harvard as individuals and as a community. But, we must also relish the beauty around and within us. We can experience all of this with messy desktops, while we sprint to section, and as we scrape the very last bits of peanut butter out of the jar at Brain Break.

Let’s prove to Deresiewicz that we have souls.

Jennifer A. Gathright ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Lowell House.

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