I was devastated to graduate from college.
No, I didn’t have to reconcile with an abysmal final GPA or face lackluster job prospects. I had to make a trade: I had to give a life I loved for one that I didn’t know.
I relished every second of the four years that I spent at college, but the gentle dread of graduation began after a spectacular sophomore year study-abroad semester. As the months of senior year began to tick away, that dread turned to sheer fear of the graduation day that would obliterate this life I loved and scatter my friends to remote corners of the country.
Looking back, I can see that this worry and uncertainty were eroding my ability to be present to the people and experiences I was with at the moment — they were stealing my joy. A stunning quote helped me learn how to preserve it in my transition through graduation, and has continued to serve me well in the pandemic.
I was stewing in these fears one February day during senior year as I mindlessly scrolled through social media at my desk. A friend had reposted a quote from C.S. Lewis that stopped me dead in my tracks. After reading it a few times, I scrambled to find a decent-looking piece of paper and my best black inky pen. I attempted to tame my normal chicken-scratch cursive handwriting as I wrote his words on a piece of floral stationary and taped it to my desk:
“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back — if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”
Three months later, after graduation day had done its work, that note somehow made it to the wall above my room’s light switch in my family’s home. That summer, I prepared to move to Pittsburgh in the fall, where I would enter a master’s degree program. I knew no one in Pittsburgh and had only visited the city a handful of times.
On days that summer when I missed my friends or when the future scared me silly, phrases from Lewis’s quote would stop and encourage me as I turned my light on and off.
“How could we endure to live … if we were always crying for one day to come back?”
How can I go forward if I’m always looking backward?
“Every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory.”
Could there be days ahead of me that are as good as those behind?
“These are that day.”
Those four words carried me through my first year of grad school. These are that day. During that first year in a new school, a new city, a new life, their constant chorus in my head reminded me that though life looked different now, these days too were gifts that could bring my life joy, meaning, and grace.
Looking back at it now, everything seems to have happened while I wasn’t looking. But in the six years since that move, I fell in love with Pittsburgh, finished grad school, decided to settle there, worked hard for a job I love, nearly died from joy when my sister moved to the city, and became a Golden Retriever dog owner.
Now, with the pandemic turning the world upside-down, I find myself in a similar place of worry and uncertainty while I quarantine with my family after temporarily returning home. But now I’m on guard to protect the sources of joy in my life — Lewis’ words anchor me in the present moment with gratitude.
I’ve learned to develop a kind of in-the-moment self-awareness to appreciate small things: chats with my mom as we cook dinner; the gentle clack of typing mingling with a Spotify playlist and the scent of the coffee that has become my family’s work-from-home routine; the familiarity of walks through our neighborhood.
Even amid a terrifying, worldwide pandemic, four words return to me: These are that day.