All the Beautiful People

Today things finally felt like they’re back to usual.

This made me happy. It was only a few moments after leaving my religion class that I came to my statistics classroom and as I walked toward my seat and saw familiar faces and one of my best friends I thought to myself, It’s good to be back in my old seat.

After two weeks not being in class, I was afraid I might not have a seat to return to. I’ve witnessed it happen plenty of times before: Someone stops showing up and after an absence or two, someone else moves into the more favorable seat. It happened to half the class in chemistry. It happened with the boy I liked in precalculus; we had worked together during class, so his loss was especially poignant.

Later in the day I felt something unusual. Something not just beyond two standard deviations from the mean, but something uncanny, something I haven’t felt in a long time, something that changes how we see the world and changes the very world we see itself. As I walked into the cafeteria, an overwhelming sense of gratitude filled me from head to toe as I realized what I felt and I said, Today, today I know what I’m thankful for.

I am thankful for temperance.

The dictionary definition of temperance is moderation or self-constraint in action, self-control, but that’s not the temperance I’m thankful for. The temperance that comes to mind when I speak of temperance is the Tarot card that signifies new perspectives and flourishing energy and forces combining in that perfect balance that causes growth and realization and harmony. That is the temperance I am thankful for today.

It might seem like an odd thing to say right after saying today things finally felt like they were returning to usual. After all, if things are back to normal, how are things flourishing or full of new perspectives? It’s actually remarkably simple and for me, that’s where the beauty of it lies.

For two weeks my life has been a meandering state of chaos. I rushed to do a week’s worth of homework in two days and then I went to a conference where I fell behind in the homework I’d failed to get done and I returned to a campus visit from the President and then I finished the week frantically completing all the homework I was behind on. Then this week began. And nothing remarkable is happening. Everything is sliding slowly back into place.

The beautiful and wondrous and amazing and mind-blowing thing about all of this is that although my situation and circumstances and my existence is all the same as it was, I have changed. Two weeks might not seem like a lot of time, but it can be. At the conference I was taught new things, I experienced new things, and I forged closer bonds with people already held close. Seeing the President in person and hearing his words without the filter of news media was such an unexpectedly exciting and transformative event I have an entirely new perspective on politics and what it means to be the President and what the significance of hearing him speak really was. Not to mention the sheer vastness of poetry and papers I had to write, which forced me into seeing and identifying parts of myself I hadn’t known were there, a quest of self-knowledge and actualization I never could have forecast.

Suddenly I’m a new person in an unchanged world. It means suddenly all those things that I had come to take for granted are new once again. It means nothing is the same though nothing has changed, and the profoundness of that statement could make zen monks reconsider existence like any other koan could.

I realized this transformation today in my creative writing class. Today was our last day writing poetry and we had a few special assignments. First we read our villanelles. Then we wrote a “zen” poem that captured a single moment, a single image, a single concrete experience in a short poem. And then we wrote a poem about marriage.

All of that is secondary to the paramount shift in perception. When I got to my class, I once again saw familiar faces. But unlike my other classes where faces are only faces, in this class, faces become people. Living, breathing, thinking, feeling people that are alike me and unlike me in so many glorious ways. In most classes, classmates sit next to each other and maybe on occasion present or study together. But in my creative writing class, we grow together.

Sticking a bunch of aspiring writers in a room, telling them to write something, and then telling them to read it aloud doesn’t seem to make much of a community. But when we must write from the head and the heart and then unabashedly share our soul before strangers, something shifts on the inside. Whether we realize it or not, we have witnessed some of the deepest recesses of another’s being, and that’s an amazing thing to witness. I’ve written in poems that I have nervously told my class things I have never even told myself. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I know I’m not the only. And that’s the most beautiful thing about it.

Yesterday in the math lab, one of the other tutors was working with a young girl on basic arithmetic. When they finished their time together, he had a word with the girl’s father and said he knows they can do it on the calculator, but he was oldschool, he felt you learn it best when you do it by hand. He gave a few pointers, keep working on that long division and something else that I can’t remember, but there was a tone to his voice that was fatherly and scholarly and so down-to-earth honest I was broken from whatever was I doing and just sat there, watching and listening. As I heard his words, a smile crept upon my face and I suddenly saw this man–whom I’ve known nearly two years–in an entirely different light. I saw someone whose prickly exterior was stripped away to the caring and compassionate man inside. It was a beautiful to see. And I will never see him the same again.

Even before that, in the office, I was listening to one of our vice-presidents talking about a project she’d like to undertake and just listening to her planning things step by step and listening to how she wanted to get a group involved even though she’s used to doing things all on her own, and once again, I was brought to an involuntary smile. We’ve been excellent friends since we met a year ago, and a year ago I don’t think I ever would have seen or heard her say anything like this. Even in this small time we’ve known each other I have had the opportunity to witness her grow in ways I’ve grown myself and to see her become a person more in line with who she wants to be. It was an incredible thing to see.

Today in creative writing, I walked into class and took my seat and wrote and listened and wrote and listened some more. As people read, I looked at them. I felt when I look people, I see only a blur; I look through them at the whole scene I’m looking at and not at them alone. And when today I looked at each of them in turn I realized how beautiful my classmates really are. They’re not just people. They’re people with stories and potential that no one else has. And some of them are just physically amazing, too. There’s a few girls in there that have smiles that can light up a room, soft faces that should be turned into immortal art, and bodies that I’m sure many men would want after if given the chance. And the guys rank pretty highly too. There’s one in particular who has a silhouette of a god and point of view that could capture anyone’s heart if he wants you have it.

I realized I’ve spent more than two months in the same room with these people and it was only today that I really saw each of them for all they are. It was indescribable that brief, momentary pause when I turned toward someone and my mind skipped a second and my only thought was, how beautiful you really are, from the inside to the out. And yet to think of it now, to think of it now it’s shameful that it took me more than two months to see the people I’ve been sitting in the same room with.

Most of them will never know this transformation I’ve gone through or how amazingly gorgeous and evocative I think they are. And chances are very high that I will never tell them, for fear of crossing lines I cannot see, for fear of insulting when I only mean to compliment, for fear of making things generally awkward. Or simply not having the guts to go up to someone and say, Hey, I think you’re a beautiful person.

In our society, it just doesn’t happen.

But I wish it could. There are so many beautiful people that I see every day. So many people that stop me in my tracks, that force me to slow my steps as the world slows with me. People so amazing in one way or another–whether how they look or how they think or how they speak or walk or talk or sing or stand or just sit quietly observing–these people may never know how amazing they really are and I’m too scared, too nervous, too shy to ever tell them.

What does that say about me? I can talk easily about a man’s faults in his absence but I cannot tell a man how beautiful he is to his face. What does that say about me?

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