I have always thought of life as a series of big events strung together only tenuously by more commonplace items. For example, there are hard-records of the day I was born, the first wobbly steps I took across the living room floor, and of my acceptance into the New York University Global Liberal Studies Core Program— all of which are considered defining moments in my personal history. My mom has filled scrapbooks with pictures of family vacations, speeches I made before a crowd, snapshots of my friends and me posing before school dances. What has not been preserved as evidence? The common, every day, in and out routine I’ve always taken for granted.
And yet, since I have been back in the United States after my first semester abroad in London, and as I prepare to return there this January, it occurs to me that my experiences there cannot be described with ceaseless talk of seeing Big Ben, all lit up and impressive against the London skyline. My memories of Greenwich and St. Albans have gotten somewhat confused— and I can’t remember which of a score of famous people were buried in each location. I can’t even define my trip by the ‘Making of Harry Potter’ tour I went on with other members of my class, though that occasion carries with it an almost historic meaning in my mind.
No, when people ask, “How was London?” and I say, “Good”, I am really remembering the walk to the Academic Center almost every day with the sounds of teenagers playing football providing cheery background noise. I am thinking of roommates— of sharing a bathroom— of trips to the grocery store or down to the laundry room—of doodling in the corner of my notes during a lecture— and of the fire alarms that constantly went off in the middle of the night because some people never learned not to smoke in the building. These events were repeated so much as to become ordinary, but it does not necessarily follow that that level of usualness made them insignificant. In fact, it occurred to me that, that one bright moment when I realized I had been accepted into college was never as important as all the moments that followed.
Timelines depict the weightiest moments in our life— but what I didn’t consider is that the lines in-between those milestones must be even stronger and more influential in order to support that weight. One line saying, “Attended NYU” is a poor summary for the effort expended both before and after that decision was made.
Waiting in line at the grocery store, I started picking through magazine articles, and I found one ‘proving’ that celebrities were just like us. For proof, there were many colorful pictures of stars walking their dogs, collecting groceries, and hanging out with friends. And even though I found the idea laughable to begin with, I realized that the reporters had it right in a way. Everybody’s big moments differ from one another’s, but the items that come in-between— the experience involved with getting up in the morning, getting ready, going to work, dealing with family and friends and hobbies— can be considered very similar across the board. Our existences are made up of the same stuff that someone in a different profession— in a different relationship— in a different country— existence is made of. In some weird sense of the word, our lives are all familiar. And while it is true that not everything we go through may be photo-worthy, that’s part of the point. Our life is made up of the times that we did the living, not stopped to collect mementos of it.