I have always found interesting the Arabic word for human, “insān,” which comes from the word “nasyan” meaning “forgetful: It was a mystery to me how out of all the adjectives to describe human, the Arabs chose “forgetful.”
However, the more time I spent on Princeton’s campus, the more I came to realize its meaning. I remember when I first stepped through Fitz Randolph Gate, I could sense the spirits of the giants that have roamed campus and left their mark on the world. I could imagine Albert Einstein lecturing and writing his equations on the boards of Frist 302. I could imagine Scott Fitzgerald writing for university literary publications, Michelle Obama studying in her dorm room at Pyne. As I walked these pathways, I felt my footsteps converge with theirs. Passing through the centuries-old architecture, I could sense age and energy emanating from their stones. I saw the tiger statues and wondered how many people stared into the eyes of the tiger and found a fiery fierceness within them. I looked up at the clock on Blair Arch and wondered how many revolutions those arms have made, how many waves of students looked up to tell the time and whether they could tell how time has flown.
I also appreciated the other markers of time – the leaves changing colors, the sun sinking below the skyline. It was only during this time of day that I witnessed the true essence of Firestone library. As night approached, I could see the golden lights within the windows glow, like fire inside a block of stone. And when I entered inside I felt warmth and camaraderie, especially during exam weeks. Students filled up the long desks, sitting side-by-side and face-to-face, their papers shuffled together across the desks, their feelings mixed and their struggles shared.
Over time, though, the spirits of the giants faded. Firestone lost its glow, its warmth became more like heat to me. I was too scared to stare at the clock at Blair Arch. My head was plunged too deep into my assignments to look up and notice the stars and rosy skies around me. My enchantment turned to indifference. I forgot that everything I have now was everything I had once hoped for. I forgot that the reality I live today was just a dream for me just two years ago.
Only when I step outside campus, or when I see the refreshing excitement on freshmen’s faces, do I realize that I have taken a lot for granted. Only then, do I realize that perhaps we were named ‘insān,” the forgetful ones, to remind us not to forget. I realize that we have traditions like Thanksgiving to remind us annually what we should be doing daily – being grateful and giving back. So we take this time to express our gratitude. To our parents, thank you for struggling to make sure that we don’t have to, for consistently supporting us throughout our mood swings and changing years. To our professors, thank you for adding into your curriculum not only course readings and assignments, but also genuine care. To our friends, thank you for celebrating with us in good times and supporting us through the not-so-good times. To those who add challenges to our lives, thank you for giving us the gift of patience and perseverance.
We are grateful too, for all the things we have. We have the option of hot or cold water when many people have no water. We have food and clothes when many are naked and starving. We have a place to call home when many are seeking refuge. It is hard, when counting our blessings, not to compare all that we have with all that others do not have. Simply being grateful for our greater blessings is not enough. To act on the words “thank you” means to give to the less fortunate, to not let down those who lifted us up and to lift up those who are down. It means to use the opportunities we have to create opportunities for others, to use our advantages to advantage the disadvantaged, to be, in the full sense of the word, grateful. For being in our great place and forgetting to be grateful is insānity.
Maha Al Fahim is a sophomore from Vancouver, BC Canada. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.