Written by Maddie Ross
The sound of my alarm blares in my ear. It is already 6:30 A.M., a mere 6 hours since I laid my exhausted body down for the night. For someone who is used to getting over eight hours a night, I feel deprived. Slowly but surely I prop myself up and lean over to retrieve my phone. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to check my notifications first thing upon waking up, but I do it anyway. The first alert comes from my school email account. In the next few minutes, the little handheld device on which I so heavily rely on informs me that I’ve received the worst grade I’ve ever gotten. My heart sinks. Now I know why they tell you not to check your phone first thing in the morning.
It’s so funny how a few measly numbers can dictate my entire perspective on life. It used to be numbers on a scale before I removed that dreadful device permanently from my life. Now, it’s grades. Do we ever change? Or do we just move from vice to vice? At this point in time, I’m too frustrated with my own performance that none of these thoughts matter. I spiral down and down and down.
When you experience an obstacle, and really hone in on the suffering it causes, other seemingly frivolous events translate as tragedies. A microwave burrito with expired salsa for dinner. Getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. Hearing of other people’s grand successes. The little becomes large and can't be ignored.
I went to bed that night with a stress headache and a stomach knotted tight with anxiety. What was I going to do? My GPA will be destroyed, I won’t make it into that program, I won’t ever be happy again. I turned off the light and finally drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, still not learning from my previous mistake, I immediately checked my phone after a restless night. However, instead of a depressing grade notification, I was greeted with a blog post. “I’m a chef with terminal cancer. Here’s what I’m doing with the time i have left.” I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes sped through the browser, each word hitting me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, at my dream college, worried about a silly little grade, feeling bad for myself, when there are people in this world who would trade places with me in less than a heartbeat. Let me be clear that this does not diminish my anguish. Instead, it gave me a grounding perspective.
To realize that every material thing in life is fleeting is terrifying. We work our whole lives to obtain jobs and money and excess stuff, and in the end those things really don’t matter. On one hand, I see the morbidity. I see how fruitless it all seems. What are we working towards in the long run anyway? But on the other hand, I find this notion of impermanence breathtakingly beautiful. It grounds us in the present. There is no moment that we can be absolutely sure of but the exact here and now. Our lives are finite, and although it may seem unthinkably scary, I think it also reminds us that we are so very precious. Every moment is a miracle: the pain, the heartache, the frustrations that plague our lives remind us each and everyday that we are human. For when all is said and done, we will be reminded of the relationships and experiences that arose from these struggles, not their momentary suffering.
Mortality is taboo. It’s a subject that I’m scared to address. But I think its very presence in our lives is grounding. The grades don’t really matter. Trying our best does. Having fun does. Exploring does. Talking with friends does. Eating at that new restaurant does. I am reminded by my own limitations, paradoxically, to live, and live well.