Excerpt from King

Great excerpt from “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” since folks seem to love quoting Dr. King out of context and watering down his message in their expressions of disapproval toward recent calls for racial justice (SB’17)

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

Melancholia

The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star. – HDT

Today is like all days, for after a while all days seem much like today. Dripping by, awfully slowly, a minute here, a minute there; and so on, until all these minutes converge into a distant infinity as suddenly, so suddenly, even today slips away. Perhaps this is what old age is like; perhaps I am drying up like a raisin in the sun, basking, bathing, burning under the inescapable force of the universe. It is all too strange, too wonderful. But maybe I will not shrivel so much. I would much rather explode instead, hotly, aggressively, like a grape crushed between the vices of life. Yes, that would be preferable.

It is the middle of December. Something curious has taken over my mentality. The smallest things can excite me. The tiniest things — a short stint of productivity, a brief foray into indulgences, even the palest hint of an idea yet unborn — leave me contented, wordlessly warm. It is the middle of December, and I have been bizarrely content with a reclusive interim lifestyle. Left along for too long, my mind begins to change. Sadness becomes a blessing, stripping my emotional regalia down to its barest elements — pure, austere, as clear as a vial. For though sadness can be inexplicable, it is seldom just imagined. I can endure sadness as a necessary evil. But melancholy hurts me. They are close cousins, surely, but melancholy is a more sinister derivative of simple sadness, seeping through each and every pore before congealing into an all-consuming emotion, a total state of existence. Help me stay away from that.

Days of Future Past

August 28th. It’s currently 4:45 AM and I’m en route to BWI. This means two things.

First, I’m leaving safety – the ineffable cocoon that a permanent home of 19 years has necessarily become – and entering the unknown. Second, I’m really tired and have too many feelings, last minute thoughts threatening to burst out of my chest.

Be still, my bleeding green heart. Perhaps I’m being a little overdramatic. For I’m not venturing into some disconnected wilderness (well, I will for a couple of days), but rather, Dartmouth College, a private Ivy League research university located in Hanover, N.H. Even after all these years, I still get end-of-summer, first-day-of-school jitters. It’s hard to pinpoint the real, underlying cause. It’s something between anxiety and excitement (or maybe that’s all just anxiety), sautéed with a generous serving of sentimentality.

I have incredibly high hopes for the year that lies ahead, but they’re tempered by this strange sense of uncertainty. It’s like I don’t fully believe in my own ability. Commendable traits, I always think; for though I’m not brilliant, I’m smart; and though I’m not always successful, I’m optimistic. The fear, then, lies in my unfailing habit of comparing myself to others. So I have a new resolutions for this school year.

I want to treat every day as a gift, as pure moments of being connected by the frenetic pace of Dartmouth. I want to understand that my life is mine alone to live. I want to think more critically, feel more deeply, reflect on who I am and who I want to become. The year will past by all too quickly, too wonderfully. I owe this to myself.

And Indeed There Will Be Time

I would have a day all to myself.

For it had been a while since the last one, and I deserved it. I would have a day to myself, starting with a little cup of coffee and an early morning run. The air was always special in the mornings, energized by a whisper of sun. Beautiful and crisp and yet faintly overpowering, existing around me as it always did; rising, falling, filling my lungs, all without me noticing. It was the middle of June. Everything slowed down, except the always-busy folks who were constantly accelerating, pushing forward with all of their might as if time would pass too quickly should they take a single moment to pause.

Having lived in suburbia for so long, the neighborhoods began to blend together. Charming little communities, I always realized; here, a bed of hydrangeas, violet-pink, light, vibrant, though perhaps a bit forgotten, breathed near the sidewalk corner. It asked to be noticed; accidentally, I relented. It was June, and in the next few hours the heat would rise to an uncomfortable degree. Slowly, gently, the day passed on without much further activity from me. Every color in the sky began congealing together, signaling the night’s arrival. In the distance, still, remained an arc of orange, a little tangerine slice displaced amongst the stars.

It was really starting to get late, and I had done very, very little. I hoped I had not just wasted a day. I sat down for a while, enjoying how simple everything was. (Or was I just being complacent? The thought scared me a bit; suddenly, I felt awfully old, unsure, impatient.) I had the feeling that living at this pace was not respectable, not sustainable. There was so much to do: errands, tasks, planning; and socializing, of course, hours of socializing. There was a cost to it all, a price, for better or worse, to every missed connection. And then I felt strange, for even thinking about everything I could do made me tired — strange, I thought, because I was not usually like this — I called myself an extrovert, an easily excitable person, but I had just spent a perfect summer’s day quietly content, doing very little of anything, quite alright by myself.

The day had gone, but it had left a peculiar impression on me. I was usually scared of being alone for too long. Though I knew being alone and loneliness were distinct sensations, I had trouble divorcing the two; surely, they were not so distantly related. I stiffened a little at the thought, trying to recall the feelings as separate entities. It was a difficult endeavor. I was not so confident that I could enjoy a dinner alone in a public space without feeling intensely self-aware. And everywhere, though I think many would really prefer some more time to themselves, there is a movement, a stirring of cultural identity, a push toward an increasingly connected world that suffocates those who are left behind.

We should not be afraid to enjoy time alone. It is all too rare, too wonderful.

Through the Looking Glass

And just like that, the school year ended, but everything else continued. Thousands of students returned home, retreating to a familiarity that resists the passage of time. Now that I’ve been home almost three weeks, I’d like to reflect on how this last year at school has been.

I’m not sure exactly what to make of my first year at college. Whatever it was, it began abruptly, with a thousand other freshmen putting their best foot forward, presenting only the greatest and coolest versions of themselves over icebreaker games and dining hall encounters. It began in a rush, ushered forth by an energetic combination of anxiety and wonder. We were battered by a hurricane of new faces, new opportunities, new visions of a so-called “Dartmouth Experience” — and we liked it. Those things always were.

For the first time, I could only rely on myself. I suppose 12 years of public school had done this to me. I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t have an existing support system. If adjusting to college is tough for a sheltered suburban teenager, being surrounded by seemingly too-cool, too-confident students is the sugar in the raw that feeds the angst.

Up until winter term, I felt like the end of everything was upon me. The end of good grades. The end of social confidence. The end of home cooked meals. Despite it all though, I was happy. Dartmouth had so much to offer. I knew I was in a special place at a special time. I liked Dartmouth.

But I wasn’t sure if I loved it. With or without my approval though, everything continued; and, as the year unfolded, slowly, slowly, before accelerating in a race toward June, everything got better and better.

This past spring, I experienced moments of being, my mind recognizing happiness while taking in the beauty of the still campus around me. I think for the first time, I could say there were extended periods where I really loved what I was doing, where I was and what I lived for.

It was because of the culmination of a million things, some big and some small. I liked the murky sapphire of the springtime night sky, a glow that burns long after the day’s energy fades. The campus always looked beautiful, peaceful. I liked being self-aware enough to know when I would enjoy a quiet night alone more than a night out with friends. I liked being liked.

*****

By week nine of every term, everyone starts to burn out, exhausted by life. I was tired. The professors were tired. The library was tired, and the Green was tired. Sometimes, I felt like I was just going through the motions, like I was being pulled toward an amorphous distance without knowing why. And I think, to an extent, we all were. We journeyed dazed through days, blacked out from a relentless routine. But we were happy; or at least, we survived. Maybe that’s enough for now.

It’s so easy to lose perspective at the College. To forget that there are other voices crying out beyond my tiny piece of wilderness. We are all insulated by a Dartmouth aegis — a shield so opaque, so adamant that soon we forget there are other things out there.

One night, I complained that I had had a bad week because of all my obligations. My floormate, in turn, complained of her struggles with chemistry; then, at once, she noted the humor behind two Ivy League students complaining as though they had nothing. We laughed at the banality of it all. We laughed until our frustration evaporated, and we were lucky it was just that easy. I was humbled to the brink of joy.

I don’t know what the theme of this post was besides some scattered reflections about college, but I’d like to end this update by sharing the following excerpt from Dartmouth alumna Claire Groden’s piece in The Dartmouth, titled “Don’t Succumb to Overcommitment.”

Being busy is such a comfort. It is an affirmation of worth, a parade of commitments that block off the typical traffic of self-doubt and self-consciousness. Throughout my time at Dartmouth, I’ve overfilled my days so I’d be too busy and exhausted to be by myself, because loneliness at Dartmouth is a terrifying thing. At a school where even being in the library is a social activity, where is a person supposed to eat alone, study alone, exercise alone, without feeling even a little on display? The only solution I found was rarely being alone, or making sure I was drowning in work when I was…

 

…On Saturday night of this year’s Green Key weekend, I spontaneously drove off campus with two good friends. We wound through empty Vermont roads to Gile Mountain, and after giving up on finding the trailhead to the fire tower, parked on the gravel shoulder. We stood in the center of the pavement, the glowing butts of our cigarettes like little light flares in the dense blackness beneath the canopy of trees.

 

It was so quiet that my ears strained, picking out each smoky exhale and the whispering of an invisible brook. Our phones were useless, beyond the reach of service and 3G. We stared at the stars, but mostly talked about ways to incapacitate the hypothetical rapist, kidnapper or serial killer. (Apparently, it’s easier than you might think to rip off a guy’s earlobe.) We were so helplessly alone, self-conscious of our own fear, that we reveled in it. Each time a car approached, we held our breaths praying it wouldn’t stop. When it passed, we laughed giddily, exhilarated by our irrational fear and the bravery of our isolation. It’s weird. But I know that next year, when I’m thumbing through my memories of this place to reconstruct some lost feeling, this night will come through sharply, still smelling a little like clove cigarettes.