For the last eight years, I have found myself speeding through a seemingly endless number of to-do lists. Starting with my freshman year in high school, I blindingly threw myself into a whirlwind of academic, athletic, social, and professional activities, often fighting sleep in order to complete my tasks for the following morning. I distinctly remember my mother walking into my bedroom my senior year of high school with the intent to confirm that I was getting ready only to find that I was still awake from the night before.
“You’re killing yourself,” she would often mutter as she closed the door and carried on with her chores.
To me, my mother simply didn’t understand. Had I not done exactly what I was doing, I would not amount to anything. No scholarships, no friends, no college, no future.
But, as high school became university, my output reached its peak. I moved from fencing practice to organic chemistry homework to art history essays and history readings. I spent nights slaving over my laptop–bought only a few months prior, already looking like its seen years of wear. Then, one day during my sophomore year, I had a mundane yet profound revelation. I was hurriedly strolling through the thick of students on my university campus trying to reach a to-go cafe when I consequentially looked up. I don’t remember exactly why–I recall that Cleveland was in its slow crawl from winter to spring. Maybe a drip of melted snow from the recent vernal shift dropped on my head. Perhaps I heard a noise (unprobable, I always had headphones in to block out any distraction). But, what matters is that I looked up. And when I looked up, I saw, in a barren tree on the edge of creeping back to life, a bird’s nest.
“Oh! I didn’t know birds still made nests,” I found myself whispering into the cold air.
I halted in my tracks as I realized what I had just said. Of course birds still made nests–they always have and always will. It’s how they live, it’s what they do. It’s quintessential to their existence. What I meant when I said “I didn’t know that birds still made nests” was “I have not noticed a bird’s nest in the longest time.” As my classmates, unpeturbed by my sudden stop in the middle of the walkway, slipped by, I pondered back to the last time I actively observed a bird’s nest. Not in high school. Not in middle school. Elementary school? Maybe early elementary school. How early? Perhaps it was pre-school. Yes. I noticed them in pre-school. I disntinctly recall a nature walk I took in pre-school. The crisp fall air was stinging my cheeks, almost like kisses from the mustachioed lips of my grandfather. My teacher pointed to two chubby birds skidding across the matted grass–they both had fiery red chests, puffed out, contrasting against the cool atmosphere emenating throughout the September morning.
“There’s the nest!” She exclaimed, pointing forward, “Robins one of the latest birds to leave for fall!”
At the time, that brief flashback was fleeting and exhilirating. Soon, I was shaken from my daze and went about my day, forgetting about the nest I saw moments before.
Two summers later, I was rushing to the mosque for taraweeh prayer during Ramadan. I could feel my scarf slipping off my tightly bound hair, so I lifted my head to fix it. Again, I found myself gazing upward at the sky, met by the twinkling stars that seemed to blink along with the chirp of July crickets.
“Wow, the stars are still there.”
Again, I had another revelation. But, I found myself uncomfortable in this feeling. These shouldn’t be revelations. I should not have been surprised by the stars in the sky or the nest in the trees. But,there I was, standing alone in my driveway, car keys idly jingling as I found myself in awe of the world around me. Yet, just as quickly as that moment captured me, I pushed it aside as I rushed to the car, late for prayer.
The more recent–and poignant–awakening moment I had was in the grocery store here in Chicago two weeks ago. October had come in slowly. The weather was still sticky and muggy. But, I as I walked into the store, air conditioned gusts blasted my hair back. Inside, the entire store covered in hues of fall foliage. Pumpkin, cinnamon, anise, and clove filled my lungs. It was fall, even if it the weather didn’t reflect it. I looked at the seasonal items in the aisle and found myself fighting back tears. I haven’t experienced fall in this way in years.
Fall was my favorite season–I savored it. The trick-or-treating, the leaves, the weather, the sense of community it brought to my small Midwestern town growing up. I had not felt those emotions–that happiness–in years. I spent the total of my adulthood buried in books, under covers, and isolated in my work. I didn’t allow myself the freedom to notice that over four autumns have passed by without a single jack o’lantern lit. But, fall didn’t care. It came and it went. It didn’t fight for my attention. It didn’t cry for my gaze. It simply passed by as it normally does, just as birds build nests and the stars shine. To seize the opportunity to enjoy it, to feel human, was my responsibility. So, now, I make sure I notice the changing leaves as I did in elementary school. I make note of each tendril of wind that dances with my hair. I try to maintain the wonder in the mundane I had as a child, no matter what my peers, professors, or employers say. In the end, I am only on this world for a numbered amount of years. Five falls missed is already too many.