Core Decorum: Simplicity

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang

Simplicity of spirit is a largely forgotten value in the hustle and bustle of collegiate life. The pinnacle of the student in our minds does it all: academics, athletics, vibrant social events, volunteers in a club, attends mass and somehow still leisurely sits on the mall for hours chatting it up.

As a self-diagnosed chronic over-committer, I used to be convinced I could balance all of these separate commitments and even manage to remain sane amidst the chaos. Every time a piece would fall out or be forgotten, the jenga tower of my self-conceived perfect life would crumble. 

My Pelagian fantasy often leaves me frustrated. I mean, wouldn’t it be convenient if we could entirely earn our spot in the heavenly sphere? I tend to think that the American meritocratic individualistic mindset seeps into our understanding of the value of work and life — the best will inherit the earth!

Yet, humans are limited. We live a mere 24 hours in a day. We have only 168 hours in the week. We can only be in one place and can only accomplish one task at a time. Space and time act as a continuous barrier to our personal ability to be exactly what our minds desire. 

Add in human fallibility and wow! You’ve got a real big heap of contingency and finitude that checks off your to-do list. 

If anything, the pandemic has reminded me again and again how little control I maintain over my own affairs. At the drop of a hat, my circumstances have changed countless times. Whether it’s just one canceled event or having to flee halfway across the world, my capacity for resilience and surrender has grown immensely.  

Being isolated once again recently, all of the reflections recounted above swirled in my mind. Regardless of what I willed, illness ran its own course. The mountain of my responsibilities and deadlines loomed regardless of my circumstances. 

I wanted to be limitless and able to supersede my challenges, exercising super-productivity and excellence, but all I could do was sneeze and watch early 2000s crime dramas. 

So, I had to decide to shrug off my worries of failures and inconsistency, and instead embrace the simple. What does this moment demand? What am I called to accomplish in light of who or what is in front of me?

Human beings are essentially incapable of doing it all. Yet, the idea of vocation indicates that we are capable of doing something specific for God. 

The simplicity and concreteness of the present is where we find peace amidst the wild expectations of the week, the month, the year. 

St. André Bessette reminds us that “It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the most exquisitely beautiful pictures.” Committing to the smallness of what we must do at this very moment is paradoxically freeing, for the burden of the 168 is too vast to try to accomplish in one’s life in an instant. Yet somehow, when we look behind us, Providence weaves a work of art more glorious than we could have fathomed.

A spirit of simplicity, along with the recognition that what we accomplish is only possible through grace, is crucial as we tackle this 168.

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