While reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature today, I came across this beautiful paragraph:
The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on the green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his playground, his garden and his bed.
“More servants wait on man/Than he’ll take notice of.”
And this one:
To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of the cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
In addition to those tremendous blessings Emerson describes there is so much to be thankful for closer to home. I’m thankful for beautiful parents, siblings that double as best friends, a lovely nephew, dear friends that inspire me with their example to do better, teachers, professors and fellow students who demonstrate what it means to have a polished intellect and contribute to your community, and a university and city full of people searching after knowledge and striving to be the best they can be. I love this city of art, interesting people, public lectures, books, and Islamic classes and its energy never fails to fill me with joy. I love studying at a university with beautiful prayer spaces and neverending activities, and having the opportunity to live with inspirational junior students (I’m a residence don), and soak up their courage and enthusiasm for life. And I’m grateful for “fresh new days with no mistakes in them” as Anne would say, days that are opportunities to become better at things I find so challenging.
Because friends, the days of this lovely graduate school adventure suddenly feel very limited. The days are short, and what seemed to be a long two year experiment not that long ago, now feels alarmingly short. Far too often, I get stressed about what lies ahead and all the unknowns in the future (what job, what city, will everything get done?) and like Emerson’s description of people ignoring the stars, I forget to notice how extraordinary everything around me actually is.
Everything that is a part of my life I prayed and wished for beforehand, and when all these different things now challenge me and ask me to be a better, kinder more intelligent person, my knee-jerk reaction is to feel stressed and overwhelmed, and worry about how I’ll manage it all. I want to improve though and embrace the “joy of the strife” instead of retreating into what is safe and comfortable or feeling worried about outcomes that are not within my control.
I was on a panel with Professor David Naylor the President of U of T a couple of weeks ago, and during the conversation he told us not to think about what we wanted our legacies to be, because the best thing was “to find something you love and to follow it as far as you can.” A legacy is something that “20-30 years later someone will figure out”, but it is important “not to take ourselves so seriously” because “we’re all grains of sand”. After all, even as a university president, “in 200 years, your portrait is in the basement”.
And so in the spirit of learning more about what I love and following it as far as I can, I’m going to try to write more frequently about thesis writing, my new neighbourhood, working at Hart House, the interesting people, the lovely readings, the intellectual problems, and all the rest of the adventures and things I’m thinking through this year. It’s a different set of challenges, a different set of people, and if you’re interested in reading, I’m looking forward to sharing bits and pieces with you and giving thanks on a more regular basis.