I hope everyone had a very happy Hanukah and merry Christmas, and any other winter holiday that may have been celebrated in the past few weeks!
I find that the last few days of the year, from Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve, I spend time reflecting on how far I’ve come and think more about where I want to go. I used to think about my life and the time I’ve spent on Earth thus far in terms of events and tangible accomplishments – a birthday, a graduation, a major trip to somewhere exotic. I evaluated where I stood by how much further I needed to get to be at the next Major Life Moment. But in the past year, the way that thoughts swirl around in my head has changed – and for the better.
It turns out, there are a lot of assumptions I’ve carried with me about what it would take to have a great life that aren’t worth holding on to. I was never much for expensive toys as a kid, always preferring books (with the exception of an American Girl Doll, of course…) and I still don’t feel the need to buy many gadgets. My old wish list was books and leotards; now it’s books and running shoes. I love the arts and all the outlets provided in New York City to explore the cultural scene, and happily pay to be a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York City Ballet because of the experiences I’ll have. But I don’t need a new designer dress, a four-star dinner out, and a cab ride to make those experiences complete. Just being there and enjoying the paintings, the sculpture, the music and the dance is enough. After all, Balanchine himself told audiences to “see the music, hear the dance” – and I’m not about to contradict the greatest ballet master of all time!
I love spending time with my closest friends, and the best times I’ve had with them, all it took was a blanket and some wine and cheese in Christ Church Meadow at Oxford, or ice cream and fireworks in a Connecticut field, for the perfect setting for a wonderful day. Today I get to see two wonderful friends who I danced alongside in the Nutcracker and who came to my bat mitzvah – a decade later, interspersed with years of being out of touch, and it feels like nothing’s changed between us at all. No amount of money in the world could equal in value this time we spent together.
I suppose what I’ve realized in the past year is really just some version of the old saying that the best things in life are free. I don’t need a lot of the material things the world tries to convince you will make you happy. Being outside in the fresh air is the best feeling in the world, and if you’ve got a good pair of running (or walking!) shoes, treading a path through the park or down country roads is in my humble opinion one of the most life-affirming ways to spend a morning, rain or shine. Really, all I need is the time and energy to spend my life with family and friends, reading great books, going for long runs and really looking at the world as I pass it by, and hopefully finding my way to work that’s meaningful and allows me to do well by doing good.
Some might call me idealistic, or naive. They’ll say the world will change me, that the cold hard truth of life will make the walls come tumbling down. But even at 23, I’ve seen a lot of what’s out in this world, and I’m well aware of the harsh reality. The way I see it, there’s enough war and hunger and pain in this world without adding to it the complaints of privileged life in a privileged nation like my own. If I take a step back and look carefully, I realize that most of those complaints come from pursuing something other than real happiness. I intend to try and carry that knowledge with me over the next year, so that even if it’s a particularly “miserable” time – studying for the bar exam, or being in the office at all hours – I’ll have the presence of mind to remember that I’m doing whatever I’m doing at that moment in time because I’m trying to earn enough security for independence, so that in the future I will have the freedom to spend more of my time on what truly matters to me in life.
And, while I’m living my life, I can also make sure that I give back to the world. I really believe that you get what you give, even if it’s “just” the feeling that you’ve touched the life of another human being for a moment in time. This can take so many forms. For me, for now, it’s meeting my fundraising goal before I cross the starting line at my next half marathon in January, of raising $2,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s also volunteering in the community with the Junior League. It’s walking or biking to the grocery store instead of driving (well, that’s helping the environment, but we all live on this planet for now!) It’s smiling and saying hello on that walk instead of looking down at my cellphone, because you never know when a simple hello will brighten someone else’s day. And all of this together? Well, it’s just the beginning of the rest of a wonderful life.