Beyond Room 119

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When I was in school, I remember being told, “Matter is the building block of life.” Over and over, I heard,  “Everything around you is made of matter.”

As I grasped that concept, I realized that yes, matter truly is all around us. It is the miniscule atoms that create our houses, our couches, our pets, our own beings. You can’t argue that it is everywhere.

But there’s another type of matter. The kind that means “to be of importance.” It’s much more ethereal and harder to pinpoint, but is importance everywhere? We all have matter within us, but do we feel that we matter?

As I was drinking my coffee on this second snow day in a row, I picked up my roommate’s college magazine that arrived in the mail yesterday. Flipping through the pages, I found an article about intimacy and relationships. The author wrote, “Common to all of the intimate relationships in my life is the one central and abiding fact: that I have the distinct feeling that I matter to the other person” (Kerry Cronin).

Which got me thinking about my own relationships and the relationships I’ve seen through my friends. The ones that leave me feeling fulfilled and happy are the ones where I know, without a doubt, that I matter to the other person. They care about me not for what I can offer them, not for what I can do for them, but because they simply love me for me. On the other side of the spectrum, reflecting on friendships that I’ve let fade throughout the years through this lens gives me more clarity as well. I’ve tried to think about why I didn’t enjoy time with those people, what happened to change between us, and struggled to pinpoint it. This author nailed it in one single sentence. I felt like they didn’t care about me, and our relationship was more about what I was for them – an open ear, a sympathetic audience, a body so they weren’t alone.

And then I take this in a different direction. Thinking about myself or friends who were in romantic relationships. When those relationships teetered out eventually, we thought it was for different reasons – lack of communication, busyness, different circumstances, whatever excuse we decided to throw on it. While these may have been true, there was one deeper reason: the other person didn’t care about their partner as a person. Instead, they were a means to some end. An end to loneliness. To pass the time. To fulfill some idiotic social standard of being in a relationship.

Then I think about times when I might have been the one to forget to show someone that they matter to me. Treating others as a means to an end because I had my own agenda. Wanting to get home earlier, and so I don’t ask a coworker about their life; instead, forgoing that to make my request of them and get out of there. Being distracted and thinking about my ever-growing to-do list as I check out at the grocery store and blankly watching the cashier as they bag my groceries, instead of engaging them as a person. Zoning out as I talk to a relative on the phone, instead of giving them my entire attention.

I want those in my life to care about me. We all do. That’s the easy side – knowing that we crave and deserve that. My focus for this week? To make sure those around me truly know that I care about them. Easier said than done, to be sure, but as I tell my kiddos, “If life were easy, it’d be boring.”

Time to go spread some love.

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Through the Lens of a Good Book

I just finished reading And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Throughout the years, I’ve read my share of fantastic books and some duds, as well. I’ve discovered that there are a few ways to tell if you’ve just read a solid book.

Clue #1: As you read the last word, your eyes backtrack and you reread the last few paragraphs. Maybe one or two times. And then again as you think about the people you’ve grown close to throughout the course of the story, how they’ve grown, and what this ending means for them. Maybe pondering if this even is the ending for them.

Clue #2: You slowly, and perhaps sadly, close the cover. Unmoving, you sit there, thinking about the story. What it means for those characters who entered your life as you turned those pages, but also what it means for you.

Hosseini is an eloquent writer with a gift for creating relationships and crafting meaning from mere words. Because of this, as I finished the book, I found myself doing both of the above. It was more than just the power of Hosseini’s work itself that left me silent, though – it was also due to where I am in my life right this moment.  

There are times in my life when I feel like nothing seems aligned. I lack that sense of clarity that some people seem gifted with and the pieces of my life puzzle are just a bit off, which distorts the final picture. But at other times, those pieces come together without any help from me. Everything around acts in unity to create a clear image.

This past week falls into the latter category. Even now, sitting on my leather couch, my legs sprawled out over the recliner, that image continues to grow clearer. My purpose in picking up my book tonight wasn’t to contemplate my life. I’ve done enough of that recently. No, I had 12 pages left to learn what happened to Pari and Abdullah, and I was excited to walk the last steps of their journey.

Yet when I turned that final page and stared at those words, I didn’t feel excitement. Instead, I felt sadness. Pari and Abdullah lived almost their entire lives in sadness; one knew exactly what he was missing and felt powerless to change it, while the other felt a vague unhappiness but didn’t know why until the end of her life.

As I sit on my couch watching the snow gently fall, I think about how this is true of far too many people today. We are sad, purposeless, drifting, unfulfilled – and yet how many of us try to change that? Change is hard. It demands drive, passion, and energy – all of which can be nearly impossible to summon when we are at – or below – that breaking point. It’s easier to do as we’ve been doing, day in and day out, week after week, as one tedious month turns into another, and  we begin to check off each year. In taking the easy road, we sacrifice our chances at joy and at fulfillment.

It is infinitely better to summon that drive, to take that extra time and find what makes us happy. I know we won’t be happy all the time. If that were the case, there would be something seriously wrong, for it is only by experiencing the sadness and sorrow that we can fully appreciate the joys of life.

I don’t want to be Abdullah, who knew from age ten what he was missing and whose sense of loss stopped him from truly appreciating life. He existed, opened a business, created a family.  But he allowed that sadness to poison his every moment. It wouldn’t have been possible for him to forget his experience, but there is something to be said about living through the sadness. Using it to spur you onward. Towards something that will somehow, someway bring you joy again.

The easy thing to do is to stay stuck. That requires no effort, no time, no thought. I suppose that’s the very definition of stuck. But the longer we stay frozen in place, lodged between the struggles of life, the farther from happiness we drift.

Life is meaningful. It has purpose. As humans, we are created to find joy.

I refuse to remain in a quagmire. I have meaning. I have purpose. I was created to find joy.

My challenge is to find it.

As one of my students said the other day, “Let’s do this.”