“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.” – Rabbi Abrham Joshua Heschel
One American and one Mexican twenty-something, both friends, wandered into a Tel Aviv pub at 9pm on a Thursday night to listen to adults share their stories about family… while this may sound like the beginning of a joke, it occurred this past summer and I was one of those twenty-somethings.
We came to this small pub because we had heard that there was a storytelling event in which people would share 5-10 minute short stories about their families (with a particular focus on sibling relationships). My friend and I thought, what better way to end a day than to listen to people share their life experiences.
It was dark in the pub, with the only light being focused on the dimly lit makeshift stage that each storyteller would climb in preparation to share with the attentive crowd. I sat excitedly awaiting people to share their stories. First we heard about how a brother and sister lovingly played with each other’s stuffed animals as children. Then another storyteller shared how because of a marriage, he and his sibling had difficulties communicating in their adult live. A third storyteller told a story that emphasized how grateful he was for his parents roll in forging a relationship between his siblings. After this story, my friend whispered to me “you know Andrew, all of these stories are normal. There is nothing special or incredible about them. And, yet, I am still intrigued by them and I am glad to share this moment with you. Thank you for inviting me to come and listen…” My friend’s statement was the highlight of my night. I realized how incredible it is to turn typical moments into enjoyable memories. There is serenity in making the ordinary extraordinary. There is a special beauty to sanctifying time and space that is typically left mundane.
This semester at Duke has left me often reminding myself of what I learned that night. With my sui generis class schedule (many independent studies) and living on east campus as an RA, I am left with a lot of free time on my hands and not a lot of close friends that live nearby. I have been lucky to have had hours of free time each week, while most of my friends have had midterms and long homework assignments to complete. And, while I recognize that I much prefer my position than their’s, having this free time made me realize how difficult it is to fill. There is a pressure at Duke to always be productive. And, I think this pressure makes students (myself included) fear time spent in ways that are unproductive. Scratch that, our fear is more specific than unproductivity. We have a fear of time spent not on class work or clubs or job related items. And, this fear is rooted in the fact that many of us don’t know what we would do if we ever had a moment free of stress and work. I find myself working so that I can relax and relaxing so that I can work, because I don’t actually know how to relax, and I fear relaxation time and the loneliness that comes along with it when everyone else around me seems to be perpetually busy. And, this semester, I have faced the challenge of living with a significant amount of “unproductive, relaxed time.” Similar to the Tel Avivian storytellers, I have had to find a way to sanctify the mundane in a way that is authentic.
In search for this sanctity, I have re-taken up the piano after years of hiatus, I have started writing more, I call friends from home and family more often, and I have even starting reading for pleasure (a privilege I haven’t afforded myself in quiet sometime!). But for me, the best moments have been the ones sitting in a cafeteria or coffee shop, or dorm room saying thank you to myself and beginning to turn the world around me into a story, into a memory that I can smile about when I want to look back on it. I have begun asking myself what I would do if I never had to work again, and I realized that story making would be it. It is my way of sanctifying time. And, I encourage you to reflect on what your way is.