Monday, September 2, 2019

The Experience of Living

I don't watch much TV, but every now and then, especially in winter or on thick, thundery or snowy days, my kids and I get into a blankets-and-bodies pile for an episode or ten of Top Chef.  A few seasons back, Fatima Ali was our favorite contestant.  She had all the things: Talent, wit, sass, thoughtfulness and kindness.  An immense amount of natural, honest beauty.  She felt more real than the other contestants.  I admired her.  The fact that she... well, existed made me feel good.

But a few months ago, in an episode somewhere in the middle of the current season, there was a line, white-against-black, in the closing credits:  "In memory of Fatima Ali."


A quick Google search told me the story:  She was gone.  Cancer.  Twenty-nine years old.

Here's what she said in an essay as she sensed her time waning:

It's funny, isn't it?  When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living.  When that choice is yanked away from us, that's when we scramble to feel."  She went on, "I was always deathly afraid of being average in any way, and now I desperately wish to have a simple, uneventful life." 

I found a lot to think about here, layered between sadness about her death, about the death of someone so sparkling and real.

It's so stupid-easy to forget to indulge in the experiences of living.  To get stuck on a fear of being average.  To forget the value in a simple, uneventful life.

This school year, I'm trying to focus on enjoying the littlest things, and not scramble for them, either, but actually seek them, find them, and feel them right when they're happening.  Last night I had a ghost itch on my foot and I took my sneaker off and scratched and literally marveled at how good it felt, but even more than that, I marveled that I'm now old enough and focused enough to notice my own ability to feel something fantastic in simplicity:  The scratch of my own itch.  And all the magical things that happen in a day, like that ten-minute period of sweet silence when every child is in a classroom and there aren't any problems to solve, for just that moment.  Or when the thunderstorm holds off until the precise millisecond every child gets off the bus and safely into the building.  Or when  kid comes up behind me and gives me one of those for-real hugs. The feeling of connecting with a staff member in a new way.  Or other things, too, in everyday, average life:  The first bite of a homemade brownie.  The way my dog looks at me.  When I don't muck up the polish on my toenails.  The satin-y feel of September, when the air is neither too hot nor too cold and really nothing at all except perfect.

In a job where we're all running around with sledgehammers, using will and strength to eliminate and tear down problems, it's nice to flip things around and consciously slow down to enjoy the simple and the uneventful.

Rest in peace, Fatima.  I am grateful for you and your acceptance that average isn't something to fear.

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