Before you read this, take a moment. Make a list of 5 things (simple things) you are grateful for.
Dear fellow academians, nerdy engineers, hopeful future doctors, lawyers, movers, and shakers of the world, college students enduring the final round of hunger games (higher education edition), this is your reality check:
It’s finals week and you’re all stressed to the brim of your intellectual capacity. You have 4 exams, 3 papers, a thesis proposal, research presentation, and 975 other things you’d rather do, all weighing you down like an anchor strapped to your waist. You’re stressed, and you’re anxious. You may be at your breaking point, and if you’re like I was this morning, you may be crying into your morning Americano at the Starbucks in the city’s center over the fact that your life is just a shitshow extravaganza right now. If you’re depressed, if you’re overwhelmed, if you’re finding it hard to be a human right now, know you’re not alone. If you feel like your life will end if you get a B- in freshman Chemistry, just please, take a moment, step back, and be grateful for this stress. Be grateful that you’ve been granted the honor to stress about arbitrary letters (A+ B- C+ D- F+) on an arbitrary piece of gilded construction paper ( undergraduate degree) which, I promise, will NOT prevent you from living another day, another year, or for that matter, a long, loving and fulfilling life.
Post-crying-mini-breakdown session amidst ample stares from concerned onlookers, and the kindness of an unlikely Starbucks barista who passed me the jokes section of the New Yorker in hopes of cheering me up (thanks Molly from Starbucks), I spent the next three hours volunteering at the city’s children’s hospital, tutoring, reading to, and entertaining a long-term, bedridden oncology patient whom I’ve known for over a year now. In an attempt to engage her vocabulary skills, I asked Jamie*, a six year old girl with a terribly rare form of leukemia, a horribly infectious giggle, and the biggest eyes to go along with the biggest heart in the world, what 5 things in her life she is grateful for. She got up from her bed, looked out her high-rise hospital room window into the rainy gray city, and brought me to tears (this time, over the beauty and fragility of life).
I am grateful for:
1. The little swirly pink and blue rainbow that you sometimes find in a puddle after it rains.
“That.” She points to the giant puddle down below in the hospital parking lot. “See that cool color swirly in the puddle? I want to go outside and mess it up, and make the swirly swirl in the other way. How does it look like a rainbow? Is the rain in that puddle pink? I want to be a duck so I can fly outside the hospital and play in that pink swirly in the puddle”
2. The color red.
“Red is so bright, its like a SCREAMING color. When I see it I just want to SCREAM it’s so loud. It’s a color that’s alive, because blood is red and when you have blood you’re alive. I love the color red, I’m thankful it’s a color, and I can see it.”
3. “Cake-batter ice cream with the white cake chunks from Coldstone after dance practice.”
“I’m grateful for the chunkies of cake that the Coldstone lady puts in the birthday cake mix and chops it up so you can’t see it in the ice cream but you find it in there when you’re eating it and you go LIKE WOAH. I’m grateful for the day I get to eat Coldstone through my mouth and not my tubey”
Side note: Jamie hasn’t eaten a single gram of food through her mouth since she was 4 and ¾. She eats through a central line creatively nicknamed “Tubey,” that runs through her chest into her bloodstream.
4. “Rolly polly bugs that scrunch up when you poke them with a pencil’s eraser.”
–She giggled for 4 minutes thinking about this one.
“They’re just so funny with their little round bodies.”
–Probably the most unexpectedly profound thing I’ve ever heard a 6 year old say.
“Its just everywhere. You can’t see it, you can kinda feel it if you go like this (she flails her arms around while her mother looks on and scold her for tangling her IV tubes),” but it’s always around you but nobody cares about it because its always there.”
If you find you’re having a hard day, look back at your list. Look at all the little things that make you happy, and cherish and embrace that happiness for a while. Realize that life is precious, sacred, and short, and whatever may be the stressor of the day, it too shall pass. “This too shall pass.”
You are more fortunate than a majority of the world, and though your struggles are real, believe me I know, they are the hopes and dreams of so many less fortunate than you. Next time you’re crying into your Starbucks Americano, remember, the things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.