Life comes when… | Opinion


After spending much of the Covid year reading memoirs, I started this column with the simple thought that we might one day be inspired to write our own memoirs. You don’t have to be famous or famous or anything like that. You don’t have to be a writer, or even think of yourself as a skilled person with words. I believe people should write more about themselves. Everyone has their own story, but too many of them are neither written, nor appreciated, nor savored.

Starting in September, together we’ve explored quite a few memories through this column, and I’ve done my best to give my personal take on what each of them has meant to me.

We talked about failures and how they can teach us to find the new in the old. I shared my take on what mentoring means to me and how we can find mentors all around us. Through the simple metaphor of running, we have seen how our lives are full of intersections and unexpected combinations that are truly priceless. We looked at the fascinating relationship between teaching and learning, and how through the two the unusual can become the usual. We learned of the unlikely friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, and the strength to find our voice and our words. And, more recently, I fondly recalled some of my earliest musical memories and realized how essential such formative moments are in making us who we are.

It’s hard to believe, but we have reached this final milestone of the fall semester. The post-Harvard-Yale (Go Crimson!) Game, post-Thanksgiving party where final projects, papers, and exams pile up relentlessly and relentlessly until, suddenly, it’s vacation time. ‘winter. Perhaps more than a few performances for student groups and house ceremonies also mark your calendar this time of year.

So, rightly so, this column also meets its denouement.

There’s another post that I think cuts across all of the (perhaps seemingly unrelated) ideas we’ve talked about together. And it is to savor the moment in which we find ourselves. Was it John Lennon who once sang, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy with other projects? “

Life happens when, from a game of chess, we make a new friend or renew an old friendship. Life happens when, one day, you meet someone who shares a part of their story with you and becomes an irreplaceable mentor. Life happens when you stumble upon an unexpected intersection or fusion of ideas, and it brings out an entirely new meaning by creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Life happens at Harvard, when we, in the midst of the act of juggling academics, social and extracurricular life, find a way to savor the opportunities and blessings that we have.

I’m in my senior year and I’m forced to think – and even worry – more and more about what to expect, what I’ll do, where, and who I’ll be, after I graduate. I’m sure my older comrades feel the same. But don’t we all go through some kind of transition all the time? Time ensures that we are constantly experiencing the end of one thing, just to give way to the beginning of the next. Our minds are perpetually busy preparing for this next thing – plan, rehearse, practice. It can be difficult to fight this urge, but life happens when we can be fully present in our current time, place and circumstances.

We often hear about the prudence of planning ahead. We also learn the virtues of looking back, of learning from the past. Savoring the moment is the right thing between these two. It happens in the blink of an eye moments that we all live and experience all the time, but it can pass to us so easily. It is not about the future or the past, but the present.

I really hope we can savor our present. It will only sharpen our memories when we one day sit down to write them down.

William Y. Yao ’22, a former Crimson Technology Chair, is a Concentrator of Applied Mathematics at Kirkland House. His column “A Memoir Of Our Own” appears every other Tuesday.

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