At the beginning of the semester, I was running back to the dining hall after a day of meetings at PBHA. The semester had only just started, but the Grind had already set in: roll out of bed, run to class, dash over to Flyby in the few minutes I could eek out of a fully booked day, rinse and repeat. At the end of the day, I was running still, afraid I would miss the last call before the bars rolled down in Quincy, tragically separating me from my dinner.
So much of our culture hinges on this idea of missing something. If you get that extra hour of sleep, you’ll miss going to the gym, but if you go to the gym, you’ll miss office hours, but if you go to office hours… There’s an infinite regress of activities you could be doing any minute of the day. Finding out how to love what you do, it seems, is only half the battle. The other half is accepting what you cannot do. Plan for the future while simultaneously making the most of every second. “Blink,” as they say, “and you’ll miss it.”
The work of service is hard. Sometimes it’s hard all at once, the day one of your students has a meltdown while doing their math homework, the day you find out the buddy you’ve been visiting at a nursing home has passed away. Other times, service is hard slowly, inexorably, as you find that meetings breed meetings, that you need to leave a little earlier to make sure you get to program on time and a parent is a bit late to pick-up and suddenly there are fewer and fewer hours in each day. But service is especially hard because it demands more than just time: it demands passion, understanding, commitment, love. It demands your whole self. And if service demands your whole self, how much more important it seems to make sure you aren’t missing anything, that you’re always on.
Service done well can sustain you, build your skills, channel your empathy, give you meaning. But service done poorly will consume you. Sometimes in an effort to bring your whole self all the time you lose yourself entirely, you become someone you don’t know: sleep-deprived, bitter, unfulfilled. It turns out that there is no space where it is more important to commit yourself to self-care than service, where a single misplaced word can harm the people you’re trying to serve for years to come. Never blink and you’ll end up with an eye so dry you’ll blind yourself. And there’s little use in an eye blinded by its desire to see.
I slowed my run toward the dining hall. I stopped and closed my eyes in one long, luxurious blink. I listened to the traffic rumble by on Mt. Auburn, felt the sun warm my face, and smiled.