Central Lafayette Area
Favorite subject your senior year: Humanities and Social Sciences
If applicable, list some activities you were part of during high school: Symphonic Studies, Pianistic Studies, Legal Studies, Aquatic Athletics, Novel & Creative Story Crafting, Economics, Philosophy, and Curling
Every night, I try to go for a walk. I cannot say that I am always successful, but when I am, I leave my house around eight o’clock – my usual route takes a timed 55 minutes to complete. It is a time to think and wonder, question and ponder. And I am of the mind that a good many people are doing the same, especially during this time when we are all cooped up like chickens.
The other night—it was a Thursday, if I am not mistaken—I was walking on the local trail back toward my house when I was overtaken by an adrenaline rush. But it was not because of a marauder leaping from the bushes, nor an animal creeping up behind me. Instead, it was something I heard.
But it was not a screech or a scream or a wail or a howl or a yowl or a bawl. No. It was the firebird. In my AirPods. Or perhaps more accurately, it was the “Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky’s The Firebird that rocked me like no attacker could.
The first beat of the “Infernal Dance” is brilliantly horrific. It is a bawl, howl, yowl, wail, screech, scream and plea all in one. And following the first chord, there is a low, sinister, menacing, ground-shaking line. It is essentially the devil’s theme music. What’s all the more interesting is that I cannot even count the number of times I had listened to it before my walk. It’s one of those works that is so enticing that one can listen to it on repeat for hours without end. So what, I began to ask myself, was so special about this time? How can I listen to it for hours without flinching but hear it once while walking and come down with a severe case of the heebie-jeebies? The answer, I have come to believe, lies not in my surroundings but in how I thought about it.
Sure, when I heard that chord (you know which one I mean by now), it was pitch black and no one was in sight. But after a week of walking, I was used to that. The only thing that I truly believe changed was that I was in a different head space; I had not heard The Firebird in the month since Shelter-In-Place began.
As we move into measuring Shelter-In-Place in months and not weeks, it becomes more and more important—especially for those of us without a time-consuming occupation—that we find ways to take advantage of our solitude. There’s no need to engage in a multi-month meditation retreat, but, simply put, we are forced to find meaning and ascribe purpose to our time unlike never before. This may not be quite as challenging for adults with full-time jobs who work from home or who already spend much of their time in the house, but for students who, like it or not, derive purpose from school, so much time away from the constant activity of a busy life on campus means that new outlets are not only desirable but essential. But the same is largely true of all people. The more we are deprived of that which lies beyond the home and normally gives us purpose, whether it is school, friends, or a job, the more we must find purpose in the home and in ourselves.
Our prolonged solitude is a test of our ability to ascribe meaning to our lives. As people, we derive purpose from that which is meaningful. We are eager to do that which we love and avoid, at all costs, that which we loathe. But when, suddenly and without choice, we are no longer able to access our passions and pursuits outside the home, time becomes less scarce than it once was. Our days are blank slates for the filling. What we do is, for the most part, entirely up to us. And now, why we do the things we do, arguably, becomes a point of introspection.
But the quest for meaning is not the same for everyone, especially not for those of us whose prefrontal cortexes are not yet fully developed. The choices we make, for example, are highly indicative of our willingness to find meaning in the right way in these difficult times. The success of Shelter-In-Place, for instance, depends largely on the willingness of individuals to make temporary albeit significant changes to their lifestyles, oftentimes forgoing that which brings them joy, whether it is time with friends or relatives, walking the streets of San Francisco, or traveling the world. People are motivated to shelter-in-place either by internal discipline and obligation or external fear of consequences. So when people choose to be out and about (which many people do), they may lack the discipline necessary to sit silently in solitude alongside the rest of us, or they may not fear the consequences of their actions. Both options are quite unsettling.
So I propose this: let us, in these troubling months, find meaning and purpose in our self-discipline and internal sense of obligation and in knowing that embracing our solitude is a virtue. We have been given time to think and ponder and wonder, and we should not squander it. In a strange way, Shelter-In-Place is a gift; as unexpected and uncomfortable as it is, we have the opportunity to make it something great. We can derive purpose simply from knowing that our choice to maintain Shelter-In-Place and embrace isolation—and all the silver linings it has to offer—is unto itself virtuous.
And as much as Shelter-In-Place is a test of our discipline, it is also a time for individuals to better themselves without the typical distractions associated with everyday life. Many of us can choose to, for at least a little while, switch off the pings and buzzes. We can choose to embrace introspection as an active way of spending our time. We can choose to be more conscious in our endeavors. We can choose to use the gift of time we’ve received and become better versions of ourselves. Ironically, we have been given the opportunity to escape the monotony about which we complain by doing nothing other than simply staying in place.
And so I arrived at my answer: why did the “Infernal Dance” spook me like never before? The truth lies in the fact that I had never listened to it in just that way, in that frame of mind. What is that way? Perhaps it is the onset of vulnerability. Or perhaps it was a subconscious desire to experience something thrilling and beyond the mundane in a time of repetition and routine. Either way, solitude has done me the favor of illustrating the lasting power of asking myself what I am doing and why I am doing it, what I feel and why I feel it. Unlike anytime before Shelter-in-Place, we have the freedom and time to explore our thoughts, ask why, dig deep, and invest in ourselves.