Middle Grounded

Simon Longhi, M2, Class of 2025

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve just been wishfully thinking my entire life.

“… so that’s why I want to work in the foreign service… because… well, the world is cool!” Scrawny, bright-eyed 18-year-old me actually spoke these words out loud, introducing myself to my Honors Ancient Civilizations class, a freshman international relations major. It became a playful, mocking mantra often recited by my friend group –in startlingly accurate high-pitched tone– every time I expressed a sincere affinity for some sort of unique culture or geographical quirk. I mean, in truth, I kind of liked it; I took it well and it suited me.  As a youth, if I ever met someone from another country, they had some sort of accent, some wild backstory – whatever that ‘foreignness’ was, this new person scored mega points in my naïve head, they were automatically ‘cooler’, and I default-admired them.

So, I wonder now, as an only slightly less naïve man in his 30s – is the world still cool?

Hmmm well… Let’s peek into the hesitation machine, my mind…

Writing this piece now, part of me feels compelled to make jarring, powerful statements about pressing issues headlining current national and world events – Abortion rights wrested away after almost fifty years, any progress in gun control swallowed up by selfish politicians as new shootings keep popping up, and an international pandemic that only exacerbated long-standing health disparities in less developed parts of the world, which we have all just swept under the rug until COVID slung it back out and shoved it in our proverbial privileged faces…

… But wait. Do I actually feel that strongly about any of that? Because while I do believe it, I probably wouldn’t speak much of that into the world, not to any of my working peers or acquaintances. That stopping short, that inaction – this is the other part of me that usually wins out. Being charitable to myself, I think it may be because I really believe that every individual has something worthwhile and beautiful to offer to their neighbor. To get there, I guess we all have to meet each other halfway, like, all the time. If I too quickly uncover the ugliness of a strong, polarizing opinion from my neighbor – where does that leave me in my everyone-has-beauty-in-them, the-world-really-is-cool bullshit life philosophy?

So even in the artful medium of the written word, I hesitate strongly now to put any crackling opinion to paper. I know it’s laughably naïve and ridiculous, but I guess I do have this idealized, excellence-in-the-pursuit-of-unattainable-perfection ‘code’ – that I can and should try my hardest to get along with everyone, no matter how extreme their thoughts and actions may be – no matter what, there’s a middle ground to be found somewhere. So then, if I put out too polarizing opinion and take too hard a side, I alienate an entire group of people immediately. “The world is cool” can’t have that…

… Okay okay, what am I doing here? Having an existential crisis about some inarticulate motto that teenage-me uttered over a decade ago, still trying to squeeze every drop of relevancy out of a past life that didn’t reach its goal? Maybe. Because yeah, what really matters? What’s my goal now?

[Hesitation machine, activate.]

… Ah, the pressure specter of goals, the Attack of the Should’s… oh yeah Simon, that’s happening now. That cringey self-judgment, that constant assessment of whether I’m “doing enough”, if I’m being “productive” and living up to the “best version of myself” – gross, I’m not supposed to dwell on all that. Those sticky, subversive thought loops are why you took up meditation, right? C’mon man, just be, live in the present, notice your strong feelings but don’t indulge them, just let them stand next to your more neutral bodily anchors, your deep breaths and the vibrations of your throat as you Om chant. You’re but a speck in an incomprehensibly complex world. Oh crap, I’m switching between “you” and “I” in typing up this piece now, that’s amateur-ish… Okay, screw this, it’s time to grab my phone and set my timer and fucking meditate… just feel only the air between your toes, hear the faint whirring of the air conditioning…

[10 minutes and 13 seconds later]

[beep beep beep beeeeeep, beep beep beep beeeeeep]

Okay, I’m back, world. I’m back, blinking cursor in this Microsoft Word document. I’m back, proverbial reader who I hope can find something in common with whatever the hell I’m writing about here. I get the feeling now that I should wrap up this piece, come up with some cute conclusion, tie this thing up in a nice little bow. I mean damn, I haven’t even mentioned that I’m gonna be a doctor yet, have I? That’s the legit, noble life goal that I’ve got going. Oh wow Simon, that’s amazing, look how much better of a person you’ve become now! Carpe diem that shit, but at the same time be well-rounded y’know, like don’t stake your entire self-worth on this medicine thing. I can live on that middle ground. See?

… Oh don’t mind me, I’m just gonna keep staring at my laptop screen until I conjure up something better…

… Eh whatever, I’m hungry.

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