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On your mark

jerkins
jerkins

I had a rough start one morning, so I decided to catch the bus from Whitman to Clio Hall to make it to my opening shift at Marquand Library. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I started to walk rather briskly toward the library when an older woman came up alongside of me and said to me, "Isn't it beautiful?" I was rather confused, but then the older woman stopped and turned toward Dillon Gymnasium and Edwards Hall. I followed her lead, and my eyes widened when I saw a lush green tree. It was standing on its own, and in the background there were several trees with yellow leaves. The woman told me that this was a ginkgo tree and that she takes time every morning to look at that particular tree, even if she has to hurry to work. As many times as I have walked or taken the bus up campus this fall, I have never once stopped and looked at this tree. I admitted this to the woman. My only justification —if one could call it that —is that I've always been in a hurry. She flashed a warm smile and told me that it doesn't take too long to look. She told me to just count: "On your mark ..." Then she giggled. She meant that, since I seemed so busy, I should set a mental timer and look quickly. Afterward, we wished each other a good day and parted ways. I don't know if I will ever run into that woman again, but she made me wonder about my inattention to the beauty that is Princeton's campus. Perhaps I need to take a moment to reflect, whether it is by gazing at a tree or by making brief contact with someone else.

I, as well as many others, create a private space even while walking around campus. We wear headphones large enough to block out the loudest of noises. We do this not only to listen to our favorite tunes but, perhaps, also to stimulate our internal gears in order to keep walking quickly to our destination. I, for one, generally wear earphones every time I walk out of my dorm. But there have been many times when I miss someone saying hello to me and need to ask that person to repeat him- or herself so that I can pause the song that's playing. Now I'm starting to wonder if I do this in order to send a signal to others to not talk to me at all. "I'm in the zone," so to speak, or, "I need to get to my destination, and I need to remain focused." Coincidentally, the day I met that woman who had a special affinity for Princeton's trees, one of my earphones was not working so I could not listen to music. I believe that if I were listening to music, she probably would never have approached me or imparted her knowledge about taking it easy and enjoying what's all around us.

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I've noticed that my Facebook friends are uploading Instagram pictures of magnificent trees all over campus. Although I've been in the locations where those photos were taken plenty of times, I cannot deny the sense of foreignness that I get whenever I look at them. I ask myself, "Why haven't I seen those trees before?" Fall tends to be a brief season, and I haven't been taking advantage of it, nature-wise. My faulty excuse is that I have been in a hurry, I walk really quickly and I wear earphones to block out stimuli. But, in fact, those stimuli are what enliven my surroundings. It makes me realize that I am here traversing these footpaths like other students, employees and faculty members. I've been missing out on a sense of community. And just think that it took one person to remind of my negligence in participating in the community around me.

Ever since that one encounter, I haven't worn my earphones around campus as I walk from point A to point B. Now it feels like I am experiencing the campus with a clearer perspective. I can hear the sounds of squirrels rustling in the bushes, people on skateboards, conversations from afar, birds chirping and the wind. All of these amenities were so easy to attain, and it seems laughable that it took me this long to really be mindful of them. Before I met that woman, "on your mark, get set ... go" meant hurry up and get to class. Now, that phrase takes on a whole new meaning: Hurry up and experience the environment around you. Let it absorb you. You're not running a race alongside anyone else, and there is no finish line. Just go ... and have a look.

Morgan Jerkins is a comparative literature major from Williamstown, N.J. She can be reached at mjerkins@princeton.edu.

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