Getting messy doing hard work. You are exhausted when you get done, but you have battle scars to show for it. You can go home, take a shower, and wash all of the blood, sweat, and tears off and all of the weariness of the day can go with it.
The fresh restlessness that comes with the beginning of spring. As the weather becomes more tolerable, the sun stays out a little longer, the school year starts to sputter out, there is movement in every crevice and all of nature is ready to be alive again.
When the things you learn in school are immediately relevant in real life. School is such an amazing opportunity and learning is beyond important. But sooner or later in almost all of our academic careers we ask the question – say it with me – when am I going to use this in real life? Why does this matter to me? And let me tell you, there is not much that makes learning more interesting than seeing that answer play out directly in your life. To be able to go directly from the classroom to the best sort of learning.
Walking places. I have a car and I am usually running on the late side. Those two things put together mean that I don’t often take the time to meander on my own to feet to the places I need to go, even if they aren’t very far away. But if the weather is nice and you have time to spare, putting one foot in front of another will get you where you need to go just as well as a few wheels but you get to enjoy the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people you may meet along the way. Also, it doesn’t feel like hard work, but man that is a good way to exercise.
When you understand God’s timing. I don’t know about you, but I spend a whole lot of my life not really knowing what God is doing in it. I struggle in some way and ask for relief or peace or the courage to keep moving through it and I don’t see any of those things happening when I think I need them. But God is above me and what a blessing that he knows what is going on 100% of the time. And once in a while, God reminds me of that by showing my exactly what I need to see as I am in the midst of it. It almost feels like a direct conversation to pray and then see God working or read a passage of the Bible that talks about exactly what I just talked to God about. He knows what he’s doing. And it’s really cool to see that in action.
Stillness. I have been a part of a sort of living museum this week which has meant a whole lot of sitting completely frozen as people mill and absorb the material around me. I am by nature a fidgeter. I am always moving somehow and I sometimes forget how to stop. But I found a whole bunch of beauty in that chance to sit completely still. Oh sure, my butt went numb every night and it was a large chunk out of my day that I sat in a stuffy room and resolutely tried to not make eye contact with the people who walked through and observed me, but I got the chance to soak in the idea of stillness. It may feel still to read a book or sit and watch a movie but you have to turn pages or you are moving your eyebrows reacting. Try just being. Don’t think, don’t move, just be still.
The juxtaposition of different noises. Sitting in a coffee shop, listening to the din of chatter alongside the strains of a symphony. Roaming through a store and hearing three different dialects as three different conversations happen around you. The whirring of fans underneath a blanket of laughter. A collective blend of separate experiences settling together and creating music at the overlap.
Sunsets over clear water. I’m from Nebraska. Water isn’t really our specialty. Maybe that’s why I am so captivated every time I see a smooth, glossy lake, somehow creating a mirror even as it moves with the subtle breeze and the eddies underneath the surface. Now I’m no stranger to beautiful sunsets, those we most definitely have in Nebraska, but to see that brilliance twice over because the water takes the painting on the sky and copies it stroke for stroke in that mirror. It takes a minute to really even take in the amount of detail and brilliance involved in such a gorgeous orchestration of nature.
Holy week hymns. I have long argued that hymns are great and lenten hymns are even better, but some of the richest, most poignant hymns I know are the ones written about Jesus’ passion. They are not shy about speaking the raw, crushing, unavoidable truth of the horror Jesus endured all for us. But that means that, come Easter morning, the proclamations of a living conquering redeemer are weightier. Easter matters more when you can acknowledge the tragedy of the events that led up to it.
The way that rain sounds like silence. The pitter patter of droplets plummeting softly from the sky to greet the sidewalk or the grass or the window or the roof is the stuff they write poetry about. It’s musical and quiet and makes the whole world lean forward in its seat to hear the hush. That is the essence of silence, and it can be heard clearly in the rush of a calm drizzly day.
Narrating your life with tuneless songs. Sometimes you can’t help but sing, and you may not have a tune or words to sing with, but you just shift pitch and start talking. It makes that whole “all the world’s a stage” thing feel a little more like Broadway.
Taking out braids at the end of the day. You don’t really notice as the day wears on how much the carefully tucked strands of hair pulled taught protest their unnatural placement. But at the end of the day, when you let everything go back to it’s regular place and comb your fingers through your hair, it’s like your whole scalp sighs in relief.
When your countdown to an exciting event hits zero. You watch the numbers get smaller and smaller in anticipation and suddenly there is no more waiting because the big day has arrived. Whatever the thing you’ve been bouncing on the balls of your feet waiting for is finally here and you can run up and hug it. Getting there is even sweeter for the waiting.
Watching people in your craft make a difference. I recently discovered the new musical Dear Evan Hansen, and it took me all of one listen to the soundtrack to be blown away by the enormity of what this show means. If you aren’t familiar with it, Dear Evan Hansen is a musical about a teen struggling with social anxiety, the aftermath of tragedy, complicated and broken family relationships, and the affect of social media on all of those things. You should go look up a more comprehensive synopsis and also listen to the soundtrack because this show is an absolute masterpiece. But as cool as this show is in and of itself, it is indescribably inspiring to me as someone who wants to contribute to the theatrical world. People are taking complex, important issues and making them accessible by putting them on stage. Dear Evan Hansen has made such an impact for people who deal with similar struggles as Evan and the rest of the characters and it has exposed what that looks like to people who don’t have personal experience with these situations. Seeing the type of work I want to do accomplishing important things is crazy validating. You are capable of making a difference, wherever your passions lie.
Taking naps with Frank Sinatra in the background. Classy music and dreams and a little bit of mixing the two.
Belting songs out of key with friends. Singing is a pretty broad definition of a phenomenon that the human voice is capable of and sometimes it includes changing the pitch at which you are yelling and changing sounds at the same time as the people around you. At that point, yelling is one of the purest expressions of joy a person can experience.
Having a favorite freckle. Mine is the one on the inside of my pinky knuckle on my left hand. Nobody else has that freckle. Nobody else’s skin has the same map of irregularities and nicks and scars that make up my body. I only get the one and I love it.
Having a physical reaction to a story. Tears. Grins. Laughter. A sinking feeling in your gut. If a story can move you, it is doing its job right. It means that it made you care about people and situations that may not exist in real life. But humans are capable of empathizing and a well-told story can make you a part of it. And that is the thing that humanity clings to, to ability to be a part of something.
Laughing when you are in the midst of hurt. Sometimes we get this impression that you either have to be completely somber or completely okay. That is not how life actually works. Sometimes, when you think you might not smile again for weeks, the best thing that can happen to you is the smallest giggle. Because it is a reminder that the sun will shine again. And that makes it far more than just a giggle. That makes it hope.
Vibrant, perfect flowers. Winter is never long enough to erase the knowledge of spring, but it can certainly dampen a person’s luster. When you see a spark of color and it turns out to be a completely unblemished little flirt from nature. It takes all of the dreariness of winter and sets it aside for the luster of new life.
Looking back at an old piece of writing and remembering from a particular sentence exactly what you were going through and how you were feeling at the time. Just two or three words that have nothing to do with anything in particular can take you back to when you wrote them and how you felt about them at the time. The memory is a funny thing and it’s pretty powerful.
Sitting with different people at a meal. I have a tendency to eat meals at the same time and sit at the same table with the same people. Don’t get me wrong, I love those people. That’s why I spend time with them. But sometimes its really fun to remember that outside of my routine I have a whole host of other really cool people I can spend time with too. Sure, I can’t get to know every human on the planet, but I know a whole bunch of pretty cool ones.
Sitting down with a pen and a paper and just letting your mind fly across the page. Sometimes there is nothing more cathartic than watching lines fill with your handwriting and your thoughts. Letting your hand turn black with ink as the page after page turns from a dead piece of tree with some markings to the bearer of a tiny piece of a person’s soul in the form of twenty-six different shapes, hastily arranged in just the right order to speak a heartbeat.
Taking things seriously just for fun. This week is Humans Versus Zombies week at my school. This means that at any time, people in orange bandanas could sprint across campus shooting nerf guns at each other and keeping everyone else informed via constantly active walkie talkie app. People drop everything they are doing to escort each other safely from one building to another. This is serious business. And it has no real consequences beyond those of the game, but for a week everyone on campus, whether they actually play or not, gets to suspend reality for just a little bit. It becomes completely normalized for people to run around like children again and it makes my little heart happy.
The kind of conversations that only happen on roadtrips. Who knows, maybe you can listen to the person next to you serenade you with the radio and interject deep life conversations between songs somewhere else, but there is something about the road stretched out before you that brings its own sort of magic. You exist in this ethereal space that isn’t quite here or there, but is simply a celebration of existence and the desire to wander and the people in the car with you. If you want a way to bond with someone, hop in a car with them and drive for a few hours. You’ll get there, trust me.
Hearing a roar of laughter from across the room. Watching a group of people in stitches, regardless of whether you know why they are laughing, has a way of warming your heart. There is an abundance of joy in this world and in the lives of the people who inhabit it and it is visible even from a stranger’s vantage point.
Pinky rings. They are so simple but they make me feel exotic. Just a little glint at the edge of a the hand to match the one at the edge of a smirk.
Deliberately taking time in group settings to learn new things about each other. It’s fun enough to go on random adventures where you squish four people in the back seat, blare music, talk a little louder than necessary out of excitement, run across the street, embarrass each other in public, do the usual adventurey things. But when you spend time in those adventures asking questions about each other and talking about what you think of each other, you get to know your friends instead of just spend time with them.
The moment at the end of a show when the audience remembers they are sitting in a theater watching people act. Live theatre requires that the audience follows the rules of the world created in the story. It isn’t real things happening in real life, but if the actors and the orchestra and the technical gurus do their job properly and the audience plays along, there is a moment after the show ends just before the applause when the whole building comes down from the story and settles back into the reality of life around them. That moment can is the thing that distinguishes a decent show from a stellar one and a present audience with an engaged one. And that blossom of silence can be the thing that makes you fall in love with a show.
Giving up your dignity. As I come to the end of my year as a resident assistant, I am realizing that my favorite part of the job is that the entire campus acknowledges that I have no dignity and they respect that. I can let someone do my makeup blindfolded and then wander all over campus like that and no one bats an eye because I am an RA. I can be consistently overenthusiastic and its just another day. I can host spontaneous dance parties and make a fool out of myself attempting to look coordinated and it is all a part of the job. I can be about as insane as I want because it is all for a good cause. Also, it’s fun.