Life is not Suffering in Claremont Springtime

The first tenet of Buddhism is that life is suffering, but I can’t think of anything that I disagree with more at this moment. Right now, I’m sitting on Marston Quad in the dappled shade cast by a nearby tree, allowing the damp ground to slowly stain my white shorts as I stare across a campus lit by the radiant sun of spring. On one side, there are two college boys, thankfully shirtless, elegantly throwing a Frisbee back and forth. On my other side, there are two toddler boys, thankfully clothed, giggling and tossing a giant Frisbee at the ground. Such is life and such is spring.

That first tenet has been on my mind a lot lately as the colleges collectively enter the last week before spring break. I feel haunted sometimes by the endless number of summer internships to apply to and the slew of midterms crammed into these past few weeks, not to mention the inevitable dread of realizing we’re almost a year older. Age, as you might have noticed, is a bit of a sore spot with me. Given the chance to drink the potion Jesse Tuck offered Lucy, I would not (spoiler alert) have poured it onto a frog. But I’ve also noticed—note clever transition to the main topic of this column—how sometimes we allow the difficult parts of our lives to overshadow the wonderful.

This was really brought home to me the other week when I realized that whenever people asked me how my day was, I would sigh and say, “Oh boy, I just had the longest lab,” instead of commenting on the lovely lunch I’d had with friends or the pop-lock-and-drop-it hip-hop class I’d come from. When describing our days, we don’t want to lie and pretend the whole thing was perfect, but sometimes we end up giving undue weight and attention to the things that aren’t as awesome.

I’ve noticed we do this with people, too. My friend was recently telling me about a girl she knew who was just “too nice.” I laughed when I heard this and replied that I’d take someone like that any day. But then I met the girl she was talking about and realized to my awe that it was possible for someone to be irritatingly friendly. I like asking, “How do you do?” as much as any other person from a small town, but this girl took it to ridiculously perky proportions. My friend confided to me that she sometimes pretends to be in the middle of a cell phone conversation to avoid talking to the girl. I must admit, however, that I wouldn’t particularly care to hang around someone who was “too mean” either. So where do we draw the line if we reject both people who are mean and people who are nice?

Societal niceties are just the start of ways you can’t please people. I’ve seen people berated for being passive-aggressive and others for being blunt. “I wish Chester wouldn’t beat around the bush but would just tell it to me straight up!” I hear this from one person, and the next minute another complains that Wilbur is overly candid. Similarly, we detest racially insensitive comments, but we also hate over-analysis of the smallest word choices. Hitting that right balance of political correctness is a dizzyingly difficult line to toe. People’s expectations can feel like a no-win situation because, oftentimes, we focus on the things we don’t like rather than appreciating the things we do. Too loud or too quiet, too focused or too lazy, we’re constantly being judged for what we’re not rather than for what we are.

The other day, a friend—let’s call her Gertrude (I think that went out of style with the 1920s, so there hopefully isn’t anyone currently walking around Claremont with that name)—told me how on the first day of a class she thought one girl was incredibly posh for sporting a headscarf. With this assumption, my friend had resolved—if not to dislike her—to not actively take a liking to her until the girl turned around and whispered some silly comment. Gertrude continued her story, telling me how, at that minute, it completely undid any first impressions she’d had of the girl. Suddenly, she not only found that she enjoyed the girl’s company in the class, but that she also found the headscarf to be pretty cool. Likewise, I detested this girl back in middle school who would always flip her hair around and say “like” at least as many times a day as Cookie Monster eats cookies. I devoted myself to disliking her, only to discover (after becoming friends with her years later) that she was actually a pretty cool kid. Clearly, the hair-flipping should have clued me in earlier. But I still regret that I missed out on a few years of friendship with her due to categorizing her as “uncool” for a couple annoying traits.

Don’t wait like my friend and I did for other people to prove themselves to you. Instead, devalue your own first perception and reevaluate the standards to which you hold your friends. And don’t let yourself get lost in the hate. When Obama visited New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Republican governor embraced him. On seeing pictures of their clasp, the Republican Party condemned the governor. That’s hating just for the sake of hatred. Likewise, I’ve held a grudge against One Direction for many a month. In my mind, they were a record company-generated music phenomenon geared toward commercially taking advantage of little American fangirls—or, in other words, childish. The problem is that I have two fully grown (although perhaps not fully matured) friends who not only listen to the band but also have 1D merchandise decorating their rooms. For weeks, I teased them quite mercilessly about their affliction, until the day one of them forced me to listen to a song. Somehow the soppy melody and cheesy lyrics managed to cut through my protestations and hit me with the realization that One Direction isn’t actually that terrible. It might be because they fill that abyss the Backstreet Boys left in my heart, and it might be their British accents, but I actually kind of sort of maybe enjoy One Direction. And again, I’m forced to confront that sometimes I get lost in animosity without any reason or purpose.

I am in no way a perfect person (please see above). In fact, I’ve even heard from some that I’m not all that good of a person at all, mostly when I’m in the midst of cutting someone in line for food at Frank. But I want to be loved despite my faults. Even better, I want to be loved for them—for the silly way I run, for belting out “Accidentally in Love” long after quiet hours have begun, for trailing off in the midst of conversation to eye the squirrel that is eyeing me. And I want to extend the same respect for others. So no matter how quiet you are or how loud, how brash or how nice; if you’re happy, and you aren’t making others unhappy, then I’ll be happy, too. And that, my chickadees, defeats the first tenet of Buddhism. Life is only full of suffering if you look for it.

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