Making a Place Your Home

“It all seems so very arbitrary. I applied for a job at this company because they were hiring. I took a desk at the back because it was empty. But, no matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home.”- Creed Bratton, The Office

This is a really cool quote that I think encapsulates some of what I’ve been thinking about lately. A couple days ago, as we were sitting on the stage in Goodrich eating free food, Grace mentioned just how much these places were really starting to feel like home. I realized I felt that too; places like the fourth floor of Sawyer, the common rooms in Frosh Quad and mission, and Goodrich– places that were at one point so strikingly foreign– now were so familiar to me that I could barely remember a time when they weren’t a part of my life. It’s so crazy that all 2,061 (I think??) of us somehow ended up here in the middle of the Berkshires– for some of us, maybe going to Williams was always part of our plan, but for others maybe it was just a twist of fate or something they never expected. No matter the reasoning or decisions we made along the way, we’ve all ended up here, and are all somehow living and growing and learning in these spaces. For a lot of us, times spent here can be some of the happiest but also the most difficult and trying of our lives. But isn’t that so cool how humans work? No matter where we go– whether it’s a paper company or summer camp or Williams College– these places and these people that were once thousands of miles away and completely irrelevant to our lives somehow become huge parts not only of our daily routine but of who we are. When we let them, they end up changing us and inspiring us and ultimately shaping the course of the rest of our lives. So even though I can’t predict now what kind of person I’ll be at the end of my next three years in Williamstown, Massachusetts, I’m so glad (and lucky!) to be able to call this place and these people home.

Going to Shabbat For the First Time…

As someone who went to Catholic school K-8 grades, I’ve only ever been to one bat mitzvah in my time (and it was for my high school friend who went rogue and had hers at 15). So walking into the Shabbat service halfway through felt a little like stepping foot in a different country. I luckily found my friend Avivah, who greeted me with a warm smile and patted down on the open chair next to her. Rachel, one of the student JRC leaders, had to get up and hand me a prayer book because, like an amateur, I didn’t know that I was supposed to have one (let alone that it is a crucial part of the service..unless of course you know everything by heart, which was everyone, in which case the book is just for decoration). The pages flipped backwards and almost all of it was in Hebrew, a language so intriguing and ear-filling that I couldn’t actually process the English translation. But that didn’t stop me from burying my face in the book, flipping to all the right pages, and straining my few remaining brain cells that somehow survived the shock of the first week back to act like I was following along. No way was I going to be the sore thumb in the 20 person group who didn’t sing and who also stared at everyone while they sung. After botching up the knee bow and some more singing (which I was informed is actually “chanting”), the service ended and we filed into the brightly lit room where roughly 40-50 other people cheerfully awaited Shabbat dinner. I wanted to go to the service because 1) I was curious and wanted to experience it but 2) because I didn’t want to be that one moocher who comes just for the warm meal…little did I know.

After a welcome and another prayer, everyone took seats at beautifully set tables with family-style dishes. Although we didn’t get any special priority for attending the service and had to wait to be seated at an overflow table with paper plates, I wasn’t complaining: there was plenty of food (two cauldron-sized pots proudly bubbled on their own little table) and all of it smelled of spice…something I didn’t realize how much I missed until I swallowed boatfuls of curry at once and cried pathetic tears, mourning my lost tolerance from too much Mission dining. Someone announced that there was a green curry made especially for those people allergic to coconut. That’s an allergy? Talk about considerate. Everyone chatted about common Williams experiences and things that made them them because we were all pretty much strangers. It brought me back to First Days and how anyone just sat with anyone at meals and how always wowed I was by the high IQs and EQs of practically all the people I was meeting. I felt so lucky to be one of the 2000. Putting away my plate and looking around the room, that’s how I felt at Shabbat and how I imagine most people feel if not each time, at least their first time: grateful for being so well taken care of for very little reason at all, besides that they showed up. And even if I don’t “buy” the religion (as I don’t as much with my Catholic faith either anymore), I so value and appreciate most religion’s skill at bringing people together and making them feel accepted and at peace. I guess they’ve had a lot of years of practice; it pays off. 

Beyond What We Owe to Each Other

For those of you who don’t know, I had to put my horse down this Monday. It hurt me on a far deeper level than I ever would’ve expected — at random times, the pain will hit me and I’ll be rendered unable to breathe, to speak, to do anything but cry. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that I’m currently experiencing all five stages of grief simultaneously. However, what’s truly shocked me is how kind everyone around me has been. Even when they don’t know what to say, they adopt some of my pain as their own, even if they don’t fully understand it. This, to me, shows some type of deeper altruism of which humans are capable. The title of this post is a play off of a book on moral contractualism entitled “What We Owe to Each Other”. Now, I’ve never read said book and am by no means well-versed in philosophy, but my interpretation of what little I know of it is that humans treat each other in ways they can justify; essentially, they base their actions on what others can accept and what they owe to them as mutual citizens of planet earth. This, to me, harkens back to the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. This type of worldview, in which your altruism is based strictly on some sort of contract between yourself and the rest of humanity, has always struck me as selfish and not fully understanding the true depths of human kindness. Humans are, in fact, rather stupid creatures. We give our love unabashedly, often expecting nothing in return. We help others with no thought for ourselves, we put others above us, we act in ways that are evolutionarily pointless and harmful. And yet we still do it. I loved my beautiful horse Ava with reckless abandon, and after losing her others have done so towards me. So be human today. Love beyond the boundaries of what is sensible, and make sure those who you love know that. Do not do only what is owed to you or only help people so far as you’d want to be helped yourself; that would make for a very cold and utterly inhuman world. Instead, act wildly and irrationally and totally and absolutely like the unpredictable, inefficient human being you are. Love others to the point of senselessness.

Thoughts on a Decoration

I have the above poster on the wall in my dorm room. It caught my eye in my grandmother’s resale shop this past summer, and I picked it up to bring to college. It’s a decoration that I’ve given some thought, and come to mixed conclusions on. At first glance, I got a strong scent of propaganda from this poster. The style of the illustration and text, the stars, the weathered appearance all suggested to me that this came out of some factory in the 40’s or 50’s. “Today will be a Good Day,” it told me, if you put on your hat and pick up your briefcase and go off to be a hard-working, productive implement of the capitalist machine!

But then I looked again at the man, walking cheerily off to start his day, and I wondered if he might not just be a robot. He does seem genuinely happy, after all. What if he really does put on his hat and pick up his briefcase and goes off every day believing that “Today will be a Good Day”? In this case, he’s found joy in the ordinary day. He takes pride in his day, no matter how menial or unremarkable it may seem, and is just as excited at the beginning of the next one. And that’s more than a lot of people can say, I think.

I’m still not totally sure what I think of this man and his slogan, but regardless, I’m glad they’re with me for my first year at Williams.

First Impressions

In college and during first days (and possibly up to your last days at Williams) you make a lot of first impressions. The first impressions you make partly depend on the context in which you meet, which can change the way people think about you. First impressions are hard to change. Imagine this: you meet someone in Hoxsey when they release all of their inhibitions. But at the same time, if you had met that person in class after they shared a profound revelation they made about the reading, the way you view them would be different right? It’s just to say that people are so incredibly complex and multi-faceted. You can be one person in one setting, and another person in one setting (obviously). As someone who is in your own body 24/7, you know about all of your different sides, but some people on campus may only know you as your Hoxsey self, or as your academic selves which can be kind of weird.

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