Meditations: Of Mediocrity

  1.  If one knows he is not usual, but is nothing special, then he is nothing more than an outsider. If he becomes something great because he is different, then he is a success story. There is a fine line between nobody and somebody.
  2. The sound of quiet is disturbing. The idea of vacation is repulsive. Both signify nothing happening, nothing moving, nothing. A pesky voice says, “Is there something inherently wrong with a day of nothing? A week of it?” Taking a vacation is failure. It’s an acknowledgement of limitation.
  3. A man can say, “I have no limitation, I am the best there is, I can do everything.” He may believe ‘I can do everything at once.’ But when he fails at one task, the entire picture cracks, and the framework crumbles.
  4. That which is on the other side of one’s home is intimidating. There are so many things to do, to see, to accomplish. There are prickles of the cold winter and the blistering hot sun. There is the mind shaking wind and the peace making breeze. Trees like poetry, the sky a reminder. There is more to life than whatever “this” is. This moment, this experience, this knowledge, this pathway.
  5. There’s an endless amount more to life than… anything imaginable and everything that occurs. There’s always more. As such, is the key not to want and to allow the universe to just be?

Is homelessness Bill de Lousyo’s fault or ours?

 

maxresdefault.jpgWe cringe and hold our noses when we walk by someone who hasn’t showered in weeks and months. We become angry that we have to breathe in another’s misfortune. We are all connected with guilt. The homeless feel guilt for their place on the street, and we are guilty for allowing it to happen.

While walking from the two train in Penn Station after attending a carnival for children from homeless shelters I saw a mother with a sign asking for help. Her son was sleeping on her lap. Walking by a homeless person is akin to this statement: “I have somewhere to go, and people to see, and you don’t.”

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“En el Camerino” Pablo Picasso

Today on the LIRR I heard a gentleman talking about volunteering for a candidate for city council in Crown Heights. He told me, “there are people being put away for years for low-level offenses, but landlords who abuse their tenants’ rights and kick them to streets to freeze to death get off scot free.”

 

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Poverty – Burhan Karkutli from Damascus, Syria 1932-2003

Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to solve this problem. He is now in his second term and nothing substantial is being done. I remember in the summer of 2016 going to Manhattan and observing more homeless than I had ever seen. I remember that every week that I returned there were more homeless littered along 34th street like forgotten trash. de Blasio affronts that these people are pretending to be homeless. He has said conveniently before the 2017 elections, “I wish I had done better in the beginning of the administration in terms of focusing on street homelessness as much as we were focusing on shelter homelessness.” He lies his way out of responsibility and we allow him to continue to live a posh life in Gracie Mansion.

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Inspired by The Pardoner’s Tale written by Geoffrey Chaucer

Looking at the donor list for this mayor of New York City, you find people from Wall Street, contractors, and many lawyers that give thousands of dollars to de Blasio’s campaign. Imagine if there was more accountability, and less corruption and I owe yous in New York. We could actually use the enormous amount of wealth that we are blessed with to bring about a real change.

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“Harlequin Leaning on his Elbow” – Pablo Picasso

Some suggest that the people on the streets should be forced into homeless shelters. But homeless shelters are hotspots of crime, and are more dangerous than the streets. As the Daily News reported, “The shelter system appears to have descended into… “Lord of the Flies,” where residents must fend for themselves… For many, the [DHS] system is a de-humanizing gauntlet where privacy is a rare commodity and residents often struggle to maintain their dignity… shelter residents live in a constant state of fear. Routinely residents are cut with razors, whacked with padlocks wrapped in socks, beaten bloody over minor disputes.”

The homeless are better off in the freezing cold and predictable streets.

In the Pursuit of Happiness, the character played by Will Smith needed a boost, a random opportunity from a company, in order to get back on his feet. The character ended up making 250K a year. The moral of the story is not that every homeless person can accomplish this, but every homeless person needs that boost in order to succeed. We must offer psychological help, since most homeless are statistically severely mentally ill. USA Today reported, “More than 124,000 – or one-fifth – of the 610,000 homeless people across the USA suffer from a severe mental illness.” Surely, as citizens of New York we owe this to everyone who lives with us.

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Lithograph by Louis Toffoli

It seems that the more we give and try to help the world the more we become confronted with our limitation. Like radio frequencies, social issues are happening all around us. When one tunes  into a problem such as homelessness, the enormity of it can feel as hopeless as cleaning up the oil spill from 2011.

In the most liberal state in the country, besides for California, we have an obligation to practice what we preach. We must hold our politicians accountable for, as Donald Trump  eloquently puts it, “all talk and no action.” Politicians will only care enough as much as we the people do. And we the people must care about this issue more. It starts by opening our eyes, and holding our votes hostage from people like de Blasio.

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City mural in Ecuador

The meat and potatoes, essentially, is “no.”

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Scott Simmerman “The Square Wheels Guy”

 

The brain is green, according to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit.  It likes to save and conserve energy and as a result, “[the brain] allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors.” If you’ve ever tried waking up an hour or two earlier and found this challenging, this is because of a “habit forming loop” embedded within the brain. “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making, It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.”

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1966 poster of Bob Dylan by Milton Glasser

In the month of New Year’s resolutions we vow change our bad habits. And yet, we often fail and promise the same ones in the following year. Duhigg believes that we must discover the trigger that proceeds an indulgent or unwanted action. Once we identify the trigger, we can supplement another behavior in its place, and satisfy our need for a reward with a different one. Basically, in order to have that coveted 360 change we must use the existing framework in our lives to change for the better.

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Two Mestizos of Airplane and Human by Xul Solar 1935

So if you come home every night and reach into mom’s dinner, the trigger may be stepping into your house and seeing the kitchen. Next time use a different entrance, and supplement a different behavior. Head on the elliptical or to the den to read a book. This way, you’re not tearing the structure of your life apart and building from nothing. You’re swapping things and switching around. This takes a lot less energy to execute, and eventually this will become a new habit. Your brain still wants to conserve energy and clings to energy efficient auto-pilot mode. Whether the brain forms positive or negative mechanisms is up to you.

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Susan Rothenberg

Duhigg offers a solution to break life’s individual bad habits. But what happens if our entire life becomes a block of monotony. We habitually go about our days without thinking about why we are here. We achieve, we push forward, we learn and absorb without being conscious of time’s passage or of ourselves. Building conscientiousness is another habit we should try to implement. If you’ve ever needed a vacation, or a change up in your routine and scenery, you might be trying to escape the brain’s autopilot mode, which feels quite dull.

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Pablo Picasso, Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) (1954)

I remember one time when walking home from school I glanced at the sky. I was going to continue to walk into my front door and do some more work, when, I decided instead to take in the moment and gaze up at the sky. I realized – it was the first time all day I had taken the time to think. 

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Melissa McCracken paints John Lenon’s “Imagine”

 

When we are on auto-pilot we can slip into being robots, and potentially, “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” Which is the way of non-essentialism. We might begin to say “yes” to opportunities we don’t want and obligations we can’t handle. Which leads Greg Mckeown to ask in Essentialism“How do we discern the trivial many from the vital few?”

Good question.

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“An Non-essentialist thinks almost everything is essential.
An Essentialist thinks almost everything is nonessential.”

During this past semester I felt like a machine that had one goal – full steam ahead. I was writing essays for school, writing for extra-curricular articles, writing for a fellowship, helping friends with their writing. I even took to tweeting, the lowest form of writing. I thought it best to diversify myself, which would look good for my career. Yet, have a look at this graph.

 

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“You have to look for every opportunity to say, ‘Well, no… I’m sorry. I’m not going to do a thousand different things that really won’t contribute much to the end result we are trying to achieve.”

In an unthinking state of mind we believe the myth of having it all and forget that every decision and activity has a trade-off. One thing I didn’t write for was for me, my blog. My pride and joy.

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WASSILY KANDINSKY -#1 Composition VII (1913)

Without a clear priority, vision, clear ideas of what opportunities we will say “no” to (or in my case, articles we don’t want to write), we sometimes end up using energy and our time aimlessly and uselessly (shown by the graph). Saying “yes” to every opportunity causes us to put less energy into the BIG yesses that we ultimately want the most. The most successful people, the CEOs, the developers, are those who master when to say “no.”

  • The Essentialist understands, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
  •  The life of the Essentialist is one with discipline and patience.
  • “Essentialists don’t say no occasionally. It is a part of their regular repertoire”
  • “Essentialists do not haphazardly say no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminate the non-essentials.”
  • Essentialists “Get rid of the obvious time wasters”
  • Essentialists “Cut out some really good opportunities as well”

Like journalists who sort through a set of facts to find what is most essential for their story, we should all look at our day to day, our choices, and how we spend our time, to find what we can eliminate. When we know the lead of our lives, we know the opportunities that we would like to devote ourselves to. We can do so fully because we don’t waste time with the “trivial few.”

An Essentialist has a clear idea of what he needs to accomplish for the day in order to go to sleep feeling proud of his day. He has a clear idea of “no” and “yes.” He uses Duhigg’s method to swap out bad habits. He says no more often than yes. He doesn’t believe being busy is a virtue, but instead values eliminating things to make life run smoothly. He takes breaks and takes the time to recharge. He walks with a confident strut knowing full well that he is his life’s designer.

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WASSILY KANDINSKY – #6 Yellow-Red-Blue (1925)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without a wild tongue, there is no war

When John Peter Zenger was accused of libel by the governor of New York in 1739, his lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, argued that Zenger shouldn’t be prosecuted for libel because what he had said against Governor William Cosby was true. At the time, libel included any criticism against a government official. Now, under American law, you can publish anything about someone (with some exceptions) as long as the information is true.

American culture is such that we are only averse to mudslinging if it’s against our favored candidate or politician. We selectively despise gossip. When we hear something against a public figure we despise, we listen and enjoy. Yet, do we ever ask ourselves if it is wise to live and breathe another’s misfortune? Somewhere between the 4th and 2nd century in Japan the “three mystic apes,” Mizaru, Mikazaru, and Lwazaru, warn: see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.  However, with the invention of the radio, T.V., and now social media, the media’s tongue cracks like a whip. And we are forced to be in earshot of scandal. So we indirectly participate in another’s failure. Perhaps its time to be quasi-religious radical to preserve some decency.

When I was in Yeshivah, or Jewish private school, I was reminded multiple times over a school day from the first grade onward – not to gossip. (Lashon hara, or “evil tongue,” is an umbrella term in the Jewish religion for slander and gossip.) Students were given bracelets and pins that warned against speaking slander.wristband-pic-copy.png

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‘Lashon Hara’ Mariel Collins

Teachers would ask us to pick an hour of the day that we would refrain from slander. You might think.. really you can’t spend an hour without gossiping?
Well, before you judge the difficulty of the challenge, here are just some of the rules:

  1. It is forbidden to say something untrue about another human being.
  2. It is forbidden to speak negatively about another human being (including a family member, a parent, a friend), even if its true. It does not matter if it’s for the purposes of venting frustrations.
  3. It is also forbidden to repeat anything about another person, even if it is not a negative thing.
  4. It is forbidden to speak overly positively about another human being, because this might cause the person to whom you’re speaking to become jealous, and say something negative. (i.e. you can cause another person to say something slanderous).
  5. It is forbidden to speak negatively about yourself. Have respect for yourself.
  6. One may not even retell a negative event without using names
  7. It is also forbidden to listen to slander. One should either reprimand the speaker, or, if that is not possible, one should extricate himself from that situation
  8. In certain circumstances, such as to protect someone from harm, it is permissible or even obligatory to share negative information.
'People chaos' Eustaquio Carrasco
‘People chaos’ Eustaquio Carrasco

Essentially PEOPLE are a topic of conversation to be avoided. These rules have saved me from a lot of trouble and has enhanced the quality of my relationships enormously. The simple solution is – I don’t vent about problems I have with my friends to my family, and vice versa. I don’t vent to co-workers and worry if it will haunt me. I don’t speak negatively about my employers, my friends, family, or myself.

  1. The moment I decided not to talk about other people I began to lead a happier and more positive life. Since, speaking negatively, even to “vent,” reinforces  bad feelings and emotions. 
  2. The conversations I do have are more meaningful and intellectual. 
  3. Those who gravitate towards me are naturally those who do not enjoy gossip and would rather talk about ideas. 
  4. I’m protected against people who could potentially slander me. To those who enjoy gossip, I would be considered boring. They want nothing to do with me.
  5. As a result, I don’t have problems with colleagues or friends. I have little arguments or ‘drama.’ Positively eliminated.
  6.  I rarely say something I shouldn’t say by accident. After all the tongue is a muscle, and I have trained mine to stay silent. 
'Big Wave' Dana Shutz
‘Big Wave’ Dana Shutz


I have to issue the disclaimer: “I’m not perfect.” I fail. But in one way I never fail, is I always recognize that talking about other people is never a good thing. And I reprimand myself if I forget this golden rule. I believe that slander, in any form, is evil. Not necessarily because the person speaking has evil intentions, but because the words itself can cause harm without you ever being aware of what your tongue has unleashed

Here is a story that happened to me that showed me this, with cruelty, and changed my life:

When I was visiting a friend named Alyssa in Pennsylvania, I met a single girl named Marie who was in her thirties. We were at a community event. I thought single-Marie was lovely and told her that I would love to set her up with someone. A few minutes after she left, my friend Alyssa grabs my arm and gasps. She says, “Oh my God, I just remembered something.” What she remembered was a ghastly thing about Marie’s family. I wish I didn’t know it.
Apparently, a few months prior someone vented to my friend Alyssa about how bad she feels for an unmarried friend of hers, and then said a very bad thing about her family. Though she did not use Marie’s name, Alyssa somehow figured it out after meeting her by chance months later. Now I was in a bad situation as a person who was thinking about setting this person up.* I was mad at Marie’s friend, whoever she was, for sabotaging unknowingly her friend’s happiness with her foolishness. I was mad at myself because I didn’t know what to do in this situation.

*Details and names have been changed.

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by Jennifer Sonksen Duran

Her friend will never know the damage she caused. The fact of the matter is that loose lips can destroy lives, without us even realizing it.

As a prospective journalist, I will have ethical considerations about my stories that other journalists will not consider. I will certainly not be writing juicy and salacious stories for clicks. As I move forward I don’t know how my ethics will work with my ambition. Sometimes raising one’s voice about an issue is important and serves the greater good, such as the #metoo movement. But the eternal truth that has withstood the test of time is – silence is by far the greatest virtue.

Turgenev’s Unrecognizable Sons

Book Reviewed: Fathers and Sons, published in 1862 after the emancipation of serfs in Russia. (4/5 stars: essential read)
Genre: Political/philosophical fiction
The questions raised by Fathers and Sons are as follows:
If social fabric is civil because it is based on thoughtlessly accepted values, is seeking indisputable truth the ultimate good if it may destroy this utility temporarily? And secondly, is the pursuit of reason cognitively possible, and further, can this adaption take away what it means to be human?
Themes:
Male Vs man
Rebellious youth
Master Vs slave

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The Russian intelligentsia, an “unborn establishment”

“A son cannot judge his father.”

In mid-19th century Russia, a cold generation of young radicals horrify their parents as they venture beyond morphing tradition with modernity, and instead seek out apocalypse. In pursuit of higher purpose and a utopia structured by reason, the nihilist shrugs when pressed on the consequences of burning values, and thereby civilization itself, to the ground. Therein marks irreconcilable differences between sons and their fathers; the latter desire civility and justice above all, while the former finds maintaining potential fallacy for this sake to be abhorrent.rr_globalrev

“A nihilist is a man who does not bow down before any authority, who does not take any principal on faith, whatever reverence that principal may be enshrined in.” (Arkady)

This intergenerational collision is introduced when a recent graduate of university returns to his father’s home. Apparently, during the prolonged absence a new ideology latches on to young Arkady. In addition to his physical changes, his demeanor becomes constrained and calculating. Abnormal to the occasion, Arkady meets his father’s enthusiasm with curtly formulated replies that indicates intentional apathy.

To the surprise of his family, Arkady arrives with his idolized mentor named Bazarov, who exemplifies the brilliance and academic dedication expected of a nihilist. They do not read poetry or listen to music, the aesthetics of which they believe detracts productivity, and perverts the real purpose of interpreting nature.Kustodiev Bolshevik

“I shall cut the frog open, and see what’s going on in his inside, and then, as you and I are much the same as frogs, only that we walk on legs, I shall know what is going on inside us too.” (Bazarov)

Bazarov, who remains with Arkady’s family, isolates himself by taking regular trips to a nearby pond. He collects frogs as case subjects and dissects them. In his understanding, there is a symmetric thread within all biology. This fundamental premise of nihilism then argues that human nature, as it has been understood, is actually resistance to innate animal instinct and reason. Thus if the current state of man is artificially created by civilization, then it must be destroyed in order to return to a natural state. For utopia, any sacrifice is worth the potential of permanent advancement.интелл2

“Russia will come to perfection when the poorest peasant has a house like that, and every one of us ought to work to bring it about.” (Bazarov)

Bazarov, presents as a timeless figure of misunderstood (and potentially mislead) youth who seethes with conviction; he is also Turgenev’s neoteric vision of rational egoism presented in human form. Bazarov is a prototype that later becomes Nietzche’s philosophy of an “ubermench.” Rationale is quintessential to sacrifice. As such, he is the exception amongst the masses, a messianic figure to bring about a futuristic world.a1

“[Bazarov] is averse to every kind of demonstration of feeling; many people find fault in him for such firmness of character, and regard it as proof of pride or lack of feeling, but men like him ought not to be judged by the common standard, ought they?” (Vassily Ivanovich)

To believe in revolution is easy; becoming a master of oneself by disengaging from slave traits, is quite something else. Bazarov realizes at the end of the novel that his diligence is rare and most people are unwilling. This becomes more evident as Bazarov’s influence weakens over Arkady. The mechanism required for social upheaval includes dissociating from family, which Arkady cannot reason from his conscious.

“If you’ve made up your mind to mow down everything – don’t spare your own legs.” (Bazarov)

Bazarov’s harsh rejection of Arkady’s uncle divides the two nihilists permanently. This is when Arkady understands what is required to sacrifice to become a Bazarov figure, he must must let go of all empathy, which will leave him cruel.

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“It’s your privilege as an animal to be free from the sentiment of pity – make the most of it – not like conscientious self-destructive animals.” (Bazarov)

He must also cut familial ties and the possibility of romance, damming himself to perpetual solitude. Alas, Arkady’s later choices follow the course of least resistance, he pursues his love interest and asks for her hand. In so doing, he fails to unlock a “master mentality,” as presented in this book. Similarly, Bazarov’s is rejected by the ordinary folk because they are too unthinking to appreciate the implications of what he stands for, at least for now.

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Congradulations Eduardo, you’re a Jew!

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A little cute story how my Uber driver, Eduardo, who also works at corporate AT&T in Merrick, found out that he is Jewish.

“Hello,” I said as I stepped into the black Mazda which I waved down at Hempstead Terminal. After an exchange of ‘how are you,’ I asked, “how is your summer going?”
“It’s going well how’s yours,” said a twenty-one-or-something year old Latino man with a goatee.

“It’s good,” I replied.
He inquired further: “what’s good about your summer?”
“Getting a lot of things done, but nothing very exciting,” said I, clearly pressing small talk for all it was worth.

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“Yeah that’s always how it is you make plans but the summer never goes according to plan.”

“What did you plan for this summer?”

“I planned to go to Israel”

Hold up… I thought to myself. He’s probably a Christian visiting Israel for a Jesus related purpose.
But just in case…

“Oh really? Are you Jewish?”

“Well no, but I have Jewish Grandparents, so I get to go on a free trip.”

“I went on birthright!”
Eduardo surprised that I knew which trip he was talking about exclaimed, “wait you’re Jewish?!”
“Yeah!”
“Like you’re just Hebrew or Jewish like you follow..”
“I am observant,” I said.
“Oh okay that’s cool,” said Eduardo stroking his chin thinkingly. “I follow some of the Jewish holidays and stuff.”

“Which side of your family is Jewish?”
“My moms side”
“Wait… your mom is Jewish?”
“I just told you my grandparents are Jewish…”
“From where?”
“Well she’s from israel and then moved so Spain – she’s sephardic I guess.”

“I’m also Sephardi… but so that means you’re Jewish!”

“No I’m not, I don’t even really follow it,” said Eduardo with a disappointing tone.

“But That’s two separate sides of the coin!”

“Really!?”

“Yeah, congratulations you’re a Jew!!”

He smiles at this.

As we arrive at my destination in Garden City;
Eduardo says in parting, “where would you like me to drop you off?”

“Right here is fine.”

“Nah, I’ll drop you off a little closer.” He stops the car, “it was nice talking to you.”

“You too, it’s always nice meeting a fellow Jew! I hope you end up going on your trip.”

And in good spirits we both waved goodbye.

I Went Back on The Train and Spoke About Time

A conversation with myself from a year ago:

Good morning. Today is August 29th 2016. I’m sitting on the 7:20 AM train to Brooklyn with my former self. This memory in its original form in the perspective of another passenger would present itself  as a 21-year-old girl writing with a light blue pen into her pocket notebook. Yet given that I, a 22-year-old version of myself, have apparated into this memory, the notebook is gone, and the blue ink has disappeared into the page. Instead, on this bright and sunny day the written words are expressed in spoken words. Now, I see a passenger glances at us in confusion as if he’s trying to tell us apart.

“Are you guys twins or am I dreaming too early in the morning?”
“Something like that,” 21-year-old Hannah replies and winks at me.

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“Would you believe that I’m on the train to returning to Brooklyn College?” she wrote on August 29th of 2016. When she wrote these words she had no idea that there was anything to be gathered for building. What she did was remove time from her mental calculations. This was new to her, she didn’t know then that time is her best friend, she did not have to fear that she neglected him.

“Would you believe that my chest feels constricted tight, tense. I’m nervous but looking forward,” she jotted down apprehensively. It was two years since she originally started at Brooklyn and having left for a year break she is worried that her mind was rusty about how to succeed. “I think this is the perfect time to return from exile,” she wrote in defiance to her nerves.

“Hannah of age 21 let me tell you what I have come to know. Let me show you all you have accomplished, let me elaborate on all you will begin to dream of.” She looks at me with excitement, “please tell me I’m dying to know this today.” I open my mouth about to tell her everything, but I can’t find the words.

Then I try to speak but no sound comes out. I force myself to cough, and the air reverberates through my vocal cords with sound. At once I feel relief; now I know that my speech is limited but I still have the ability. I suppose in this realm I have limitations of prophesying to her.

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I choose my words carefully, I don’t want to alarm her with the absurd appearance of trying to make sound again. “Heres what I can tell you: I know you feel that the six months preceding have allowed you the mental capacity to really, not necessarily push full steam ahead (that would imply a sense of urgency), but rather allowed you the mindset to, as you say, ‘take in all the blessings and charms of being in college more meaningfully.”

“Yes exactly! I set out to college with a time scale in my mind, now it has vanished,” said Hannah of age 21. “I wonder what will be in store for me, what my classes will teach me, the people I will meet…”

“All I can tell you is this. You are correct about your ideas of time. Time is the most precious thing you can ever choose to neglect or waste. But the external ideas of time are erroneous and destructive. People outside of your body can only see the productivity that can be quantified with a slicing of a goal off a to do list, climbing a mountain expected of youth of age 21, and being on a path that directly leads to a salary of an adult. For themselves they may justify utilizing time for growth and self-reflexion, but they are limited to see the development within another person. I cannot tell you any more than this because all you will learn will come to you through your own efforts. Even if I could find the correct use of language to tell you precisely what you will come to know I realize now that doing so would steal the dream that time has in store for you. You must honor your time, but you also must honor your own pace. You should never reference time with a checklist, but as a stratagem for growth.”
The scene dissolves as if neither memory ever happened.

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“We accept the present as something that is only temporary, and regard it only as a means to accomplish our aim. So that most people will find if they look back when their life is at an end…they will be surprised to find that something they allowed to pass by unnoticed… was just their life — that is to say, it was the very thing in the expectation of which they lived.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)