Putting the Present in Perspective

It’s a pretty day outside today. The sun is shining, the weather is finally warming up after the dreadful coldness of the past few days ( a little too warm for my liking if I were being completely honest), and the squirrels are jovially chasing each other about without a single care in the world. As this beautiful scene unfolds itself before my eyes, I’m tempted to take a picture with my smartphone. As I unlock the camera and attempt to capture the perfect shot, the only view that greets me from the other side is a blurred and out of focus image.

out of focusSometimes the moments we are living through are like the blurry picture, frustratingly obscure and meaningless, out of focus. We can’t seem to grasp the significance of certain occurrences. Maybe we just got fired from our job for no apparent reason. Maybe we opened our fourth rejection letter from colleges. Maybe we studied so hard for that one test but still bombed it. Maybe that concert we’ve been waiting ages to go to just got cancelled. Whatever it is, we are disappointed, lost, and unhappy, walking through the lonely streets of life with no one at our side. We wonder out loud for the hundredth time, “Why me of all people? Why now of all times?” On a miserable day that couldn’t get any worse, the rain starts pouring, flawlessly completing the gloomy scene.

I have a confession to make.

I understand that feeling all too well, for I have been there too, and more often than you would think. My high school chemistry teacher once said something along these lines (in a completely different context of course):

At the end of the day, when you are in the dark alone, only then do you know yourself the best and show your true face. 

I’m pretty sure she had been referring to the honor code policies at the time, but it struck me in a different regard. I often mask away my sadness in front of my friends, wiping away the tears and painting a smile in the place of a frown. I appear confident and strong. I’m cheery and optimistic, haughty and sarcastic. I’m OK.

But I’m not. Looks are deceptive and everything you thought I was, it’s all a lie. Inside, I’m crumbling. I’m lost and insecure. At night, staring at the ceiling and trying to shut out the millions of thoughts flowing through my head, the tears flow out as I’m finally forced to face the cold truth face to face. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, I have no tentative plan in place, I’m not where I want to be or where I should be. A big part of my confidence stemmed from getting good grades and always being at the top of the class …. and now even that’s not something I can be proud of as college has humbled me greatly. It’s like trying to go up the down escalator. No matter how hard I run, it’s all in vain and each step forwards only brings me two steps back until I’m again at where I started, on the ground and broken.

I’ve never been super popular or had a large friend group and though I love everyone I’ve met here, I haven’t been able to form any real connections. I’ve never gotten thousands of likes on social media and while I try to not let that bother me, it’s a bit sad that I have a larger following on Pinterest, a platform where I present a superficial me with all the ideal things I wish my life consisted of and where my followers are mostly strangers, than I do on Instagram, where the day to day moments of my real life are passed through a filter and published for friends to see.

To be honest, people used to bully me in grade school because I was little and easy to step
on. A doormat of sorts, if you will. I always put up a strong front to protect my pride, to show that I was resilient and a tough cookie, not someone to be easily pushed around. In some ways, going through the experience helped me grow as a person, so it’s not a completely awful thing. However, through the years, even my friends would joke about my height, and while I never thought much of it at the time and laughed along with them, it secretly distressed me. I would go home and reflect on the words they had already long forgotten, uttered in the moment and meant to be light and silly but still echoing in my ears and ringing louder than a thousand bells, weighing heavily on my mind.

Freshman year of high school, one of my good friends called me ugly behind my back and said I was “really not good looking”. Four years later and I still think about those words, even now. She had no idea how much uttering those words would burden me.

When you say that I’m just average, that I have no friends, that I can’t sing or can’t dance, I’ll brush it off like a speck of dust, but it’s all a pretense and I’m just waiting for you to turn your back to break down on my own.

I wouldn’t call what I have depression because it’s nowhere that bad and the sadness only lasts momentarily. I’m not constantly plagued by lethargy or lay in bed doing nothing all day, but that doesn’t mean I’m always okay either. Without close friends and a strong familial support network here at college, the loneliness and doubts are only amplified these days. From time to time, I’ll feel down and muse over these useless things.

But, I’ve thought it over. Like I said, these moments are just small parts of a greater picture. Everything that happens in life happens for a good reason, and even if we can’t see that right now, we can only unconditionally trust that it’s true. We can only tightly grasp on to the idea that one day, everything will be put into perspective and become crystal clear. Just as a single tap of the finger brings the entire scene into focus on our phone screens, everything will fall into place and make sense sooner or later.

It’s like being locked away in a dark room all your life, with the bare provisions necessary to just survive. There’s chalk that we use to doodle the hours away with. On the walls, previous occupants have scribbled messages and left their mark. There’s a single door leading to the outside world but we find it impossible to open. The only light that floats into the room comes from under the cracks of the door. It’s bright, yellow, dazzling, and full of hope and promises of a world different from the somber one we currently reside in. Oh, how much we yearn to see the other side, even if it’s just for a mere second.  How much we want to feel the warm glow of the sun and breathe fresh air, and even if we had to be dragged right back to the dark room, we would be satisfied enough to live on. The prisoners who came before us describe this other world as “intoxicating, fascinating, sparkling, and vivid, where absolute happiness can be found anywhere and everywhere”. They describe the dazzling beauty of the yellow disc called the sun. Every day we read these descriptions on the walls, our only connection to the outside world, and let our wild imagination roam free.

One day, we find the door finally opened and with unrestrained excitement, we rush outside to finally greet the substance of our dreams and fantasies, only to be met with dreaded disappointment instead. Instead of the free and open world we had believed to lay ahead of us, only a bare room exists on the other side of the door with a flickering fluorescent lamp serving as the lone source of light in place of the sunlight described to us. Not brilliant, not radiant, and certainly not warm. The walls are grey and lonely. Only then do we realize that the crudely scrawled descriptions on our walls were from prisoners just like us, unable to see the outside and only able to project their own baseless expectations onto others, causing severe disillusionment once reality settled in.

We finally realize that this room isn’t even as great as the one we came from. At least there was food and water as well as other provisions in the dark room. At least there was chalk to pass the time with. At least it felt familiar, comforting. Not knowing all this, we spent so much time not enjoying the things we already had and only pining for better days. In retrospect, the times spent in the dark room were so much better, but it’s too late now, the door has already shut again and there’s no way to go back.

Being popular, being successful, and all those superficial things are like the purported sunlight and happy world that laid on the other side of the door. We’ll come to realize that it’s not really all that great and not worth losing sight of the important things in life for. Some of the happiest people in the world are also the poorest. Even the most popular and seemingly successful people live a taxing life and also have their doubts. Just take this UPenn student’s story for example:

Madison was beautiful, talented, successful — very nearly the epitome of what every young girl is supposed to hope she becomes. But she was also a perfectionist who struggled when she performed poorly. She was a deep thinker, someone who was aware of the image she presented to the world, and someone who often struggled with what that image conveyed about her, with how people superficially read who she was, what her life was like.

A little over a year before she died, Madison posted on Instagram a snapshot of a quote from Seventeen magazine:

“Even people you think are perfect are going through something difficult.”

[…]

She also left a copy of the young adult book Reconstructing Amelia…Madison seemed to see a version of herself in Amelia, in the perfectly crafted veneer that never felt like an honest reflection of her interior life. As though she could never find validation for her struggle because how could someone so beautiful, so seemingly put together, be unhappy? This is illogical, of course. Like thinking a computer’s hard drive can’t malfunction simply because the screen hasn’t a scratch…

Read the rest of Kate Fagan’s article on Madison Holleran

So in summary, it’s okay to be insecure.

Even the best of us have bad days. It’s not the end of the world.

Don’t take the present for granted because one day it will be gone and we only tend to miss things once they are gone.

Life will be full of ups and downs, but where’s the fun in traveling on a straight, flat path stretching on endlessly to a known final destination?

Everything will eventually come into perspective, it’s just a matter of when. In the meantime, enjoy the small moments in life and don’t worry too much if things don’t always go the way we want them to.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

-John Lennon

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