Stop. Pause. Listen.
Let’s face it: by the time March rolls around, most students are so busy with assignments, studying for exams, and just trying to stay afloat that they have probably forgotten what it is that brought them here in the first place. It’s the fault of our system, our society, that puts so much pressure on students to succeed. It’s a problem for which I personally do not have a long term solution.
But on March 22nd, 2017, I was fortunate enough to witness a short term one.
I am not exaggerating when I say the “Whissper” event–put on in collaboration with Margaret Christakos, this year’s writer in residence–and some dedicated and hard working poets from across the university (including four incredible performers from the third SASAH cohort), took Weldon Library by surprise. Areas that are usually designated “quiet zones” were overtaken by poetry, and yes, some dirty looks were initially exchanged by the stressed students trying to study. But then something else happened. People put their pencils down. They looked up from their phones, away from their laptops and textbooks. Instead of shooting accusing looks at the group of poetry enthusiasts disrupting their learning space, the paused to embrace the stories being recited in front of them. Students nodded along, agreeing to the words of completely strangers – letting other people’s experiences resonate with them.
Of course, I will never know the last time the students and faculty crammed in D.B. Weldon library let themselves take a break simply to observe and embrace the world around them, but if I’m speaking for myself, it has been longer than I remember. I did not get the chance to ask any of these people how the poetry affected their day, I did not ask them if they enjoyed it, or if in the end, they still would have preferred no interruption at all. Instead, when the moment passed, everyone returned to their work, as if nothing had happened, though we all knew it had.
If one day, I manage to do that for someone, to let them stop, pause, listen, and remind them that life does not always have to be a race, then I think I will have succeeded.