The Good Old Days

Andy Bernard, fictional character of ‘The Office’ infamy, has a quote that since its utterance has pervaded pop culture and (rightfully) stuck around in the minds of fans of the show.

He says, in a moment of candid poignancy, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

In this simple statement of longing, Andy encapsulates the temporal wistfulness that philosophers have pondered at for a millennium. It is all too easy, in the modern day especially, to live so engrossed in the next activity on our agenda that we miss the moments we are forced to live in.

For years of my life, I struggled with this concept.

Growing up, I always needed events scheduled after school or on the weekends just to get me through the school-day. I was literally ‘looking forward’ past the present, with my eyes constantly set on the next best thing.

What this led to was a cyclical process of dissatisfaction: I would pour so much time and thought into the future that, upon its arrival, it could not uphold the weight of my expectations.

This led to a chronic lack of fulfillment in my life. I would leave a party or get-together that had been fun, gone perfectly according to plan, and still feel empty in the aftermath.

I am no great philosopher or thinker, but with years of thought and reading I began to realize the necessity of mindfulness. If you know me personally, you will hear me quip anecdotally of its importance, and if you have read my past letters you have heard me make reference to it.

But what mindfulness helped me uncover was the importance of small-scale fulfillment; I am slowly coming to the realization that the ‘big picture’ satisfaction we seek in America may not actually exist.

I find myself complete in simple moments of gratitude, be it when I am walking to class and marveling at the warbling of birds around me, or stopped in my tracks at the dead of night by the starry sky.

I find myself complete when I focus on my breath through meditation, sitting quietly as thousands have before me, pondering the providence and blessing of my life.

I find myself complete in the car ride home, appreciative of the friends I have made and the time they choose to spend with me.

I wish I could say that this wholesomeness of thought comes with no downsides, but I would be lying. The realization of Andy’s longing in my own life, acknowledging that every day I am gifted is ‘one of the good old days’, inevitably leads to a preemptive mourning of the moment before it has even passed.

In that very same car ride home, I can have a profound sadness that the good times I have had I will never get back. But coupled with that is the awareness that more are still to come.

Therein lies the root of the proverbial problem: finding fulfillment in the car ride home.

Roland Barthes, in his “A Lover’s Discourse”, encapsulated this concept perfectly. He pens, “Love at first sight is always spoken in the past tense. The scene is perfectly adapted to this temporal phenomenon: distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already a memory (the nature of a photograph is not to represent but to memorialize)… this scene has all the magnificence of an accident: I cannot get over having had this good fortune: to meet what matches my desire.”

It is the appreciation of this magnificent gift of life that we are all a part of that makes these moments so beautiful. These moments, as if stolen from a movie screen, are instantaneously crystallized in nostalgia, and are, to me, the epitome of fulfillment.

Finals week is upon us. We will fly from test to test, from paper to paper, and then perhaps fly (or drive) home.

Break will be a time of anticipation and appreciation, I hope, for all of us. But I urge you, brothers and sisters, to not miss the present moment for the hope of what tomorrow brings.

Great as it may be, the real fulfillment is found in the car ride home.

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