I’ve been struggling for a good month to write a graduation-themed post. At first, I was grossly over-ambitious and tried to pen some sort of all-encompassing college epic that would communicate all the disappointments and successes, all the adventures and inside jokes, the people I’ve loved and learned from, and the others I’ve just learned to deal with. But I soon realized that was impossible. I’ve had an amazing college experience, and I know that many around me would say the same. But it’s not necessarily the individual experiences that matter (at least not as much to anyone outside our selves and immediate friends). Maybe someday I’ll still try and write that long and nostalgic ode to my college journey, but for now, I’d just like to share a quote and some thoughts. The quote is from Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours.
“She thinks of how much more space a being occupies in life than it does in death; how much illusion of size is contained in gestures and movements, in breathing. Dead, we are revealed in our true dimensions, and they are surprisingly modest.”
Like any discussion of death, this quote might seem a little morbid. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I really don’t think it’s morbid. In fact, I see two different messages: one solemn and one hopeful. The first is that we must realize that we all end small, and be humbled by this. When we are alive, we are our jobs, our apartments, our pets, hobbies, credit card statements, social calendars, and personalities. But to put life and death in perspective – none of these things matters to a dead person. In death, all we have are the “lumps of flesh” that are our used bodies, and maybe the best clothes in which we may be buried. Death is the great equalizer; in death, everything that made our lives so full ceases to matter, and what remains is surprisingly modest.
But I also see this as a reason to “occupy more space in life.” We create space in our lives by the gestures and movements we choose to employ. We grow and create space by loving more and working harder. By being curious, by reaching out to connect with others, and also by simply breathing. We’ve all known people who can “fill a room” simply with their presence. Or people who have carved out a place in the world with their accomplishments. Death may be the great equalizer, but we choose how large we live our lives. For the past 21 years, I have lived in the same town and done much of what has been expected of me. But today I graduate, and soon after I will leave, and I will work to expand that space that is my life. Because I want my life to be full – I want my life to be big.