Beyond Room 119

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Life is a gift.

The more I learn, the more I’m made aware of this fact.

The air we breathe, the streets we walk, the people we encounter, the experiences we have – all of these are given, not earned.

It’s natural for us to resist this sometimes. We often recognize that we’re given certain things, but we’re loath to give away all the credit. “I may have been born with x, y, or z,” we say, “but I worked hard to get to where I am today. I earned my life.”

To some extent, this may be absolutely true. I don’t mean to discount the effects of hard work, persistence, and grit. I’m constantly amazed at the determination of the people around me, and how they tirelessly work towards their goals. One of my favorite things to do is celebrate when people in my life hit important mile markers or reach their goals, and it fills me with such joy to see the people that I love succeed.

It’s important, though, to recognize where we came from and what we have been given. Whether someone is a first-generation college student or an heiress, we all started this life with something. For some of us, we may have started with more material or emotional advantages than others, but none of us were plopped onto this earth with nothing. The expectation that we would go to school, a roof over our heads, a teacher that challenged our beliefs, our own determination, a passion that pushed us to do more and to be more, access to running water, the freedom to walk in public unescorted, the ability to appreciate the beauty around us – each of us were given a particular set of gifts and privileges. A set of gifts that we, and only we, have. These gifts position us for a unique purpose. What that purpose is, and how we choose to act on it, depends entirely on us. We have the freedom of choice, always. Sometimes, our circumstances may seem to force us into one choice or another, but even then, we have the most critical choice of all: that of perspective. Given our lives and our experiences, how do we choose to view them?

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychologist, wrote after his experiences in a concentration camp, “I’ve learned that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We’re given the ability to choose how to act and above all else, how to view our lives. Life is an essay test, not multiple choice. There are so many different ways to get it right, and each answer presents a unique and beautiful narrative. There’s only one way to fail the test: to give up.

An old Irish blessing says, “May the sun shine warm upon your face.” My hope is that whether the sun is visible or not, we are able to always feel its warmth. So here’s to another day of frustration and joy, of enjoyment and difficulty. The challenge facing us is to embrace what we have and recognize the beauty within each moment.