If You Give a Chemist a Poem…

“Lauren, if you don’t register for this class, you’re not going to graduate on time.”

I remember my advisor’s words sending chills down my spine as I sat in her cramped office at the conclusion of my 2nd to last semester of college.

As her words sank in, I quickly realized there was no way I could afford  to stay on for an extra semester at Belmont.  My academic and sports scholarships would be up by then.  Plus, I couldn’t miss the start of grad school…  I HAD to finish on time.

“Ok fine…  I’ll sign up for the Shakespeare class,” I muttered.

At the time, it felt like a death sentence or some cruel form of torture to make a scientist take a literature class in her last semester.

I’d have to suffer through an intense 6 week class on the late plays of Shakespeare in order to finish my bachelor’s degree on time.  Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against the Bard of Avon himself, but I’d always hated his plays with a passion because I could not for the life of me understand them!

The flowery language and the overuse of similes and words I didn’t know just annoyed me.  On top of that, every time I started reading a poem or a play, I’d have this overwhelming sense of “Just get to the point already!!!” overtake me.

Reading Shakespeare (and poetry in general) was not enjoyable at all.

I wish I could say that my perspective radically shifted and that I ended up loving that class.  I didn’t though.  While I passed and was able to graduate on time, I loathed every second I spent reading those plays.

Fast forward about 5 years….

While at home in Lafayette one night writing my dissertation, I heard a quote on TV that had me thinking “I need to find out who said that and write it down.”  A quick Google search told me that it was a quote from some poem a dead guy wrote.

Blah.  Since I hated poems I almost closed the browser, but something stopped me.

In the couple years prior to that night, I’d begun to understand the concept that life is more about the journey rather than the destination.  

I’d started searching for the value in each moment, in each experience.  I started appreciating processes more – whether it was cooking up a new dish, working on a crochet project, trying to improve my fitness or even just reading a book.

I stopped rushing for the finish line in everything I was doing, because I realized that while crossing the finish line feels fantastic, that feeling doesn’t last.

But the process – the experience – of getting to that final stop on the journey was full of all sorts of excitement and drama and lessons.

In other words, the in-between was full of LIFE.

So I did something I’d never done before.  I willingly read a poem.  [insert shock here]

I didn’t rush through it, and I savored each word.  If I didn’t know what a word meant, I looked it up.

Then I re-read the poem.  Three times.  And guess what happened by the end of the last time through?

I was just about moved to tears.

By slowing down and enjoying the process of reading the poem, I’d discovered an appreciation for poetry that I didn’t know I was capable of possessing (and would’ve probably never known about otherwise).

Now obviously I’m not perfect (I know, I know it’s hard to believe ;)), so I don’t savor every process… but I try because I know there’s value in the in-between.

I tell you all this today because I hope that you aren’t doing what I constantly used to do – rushing to the end of everything.  

Instead hopefully, you’re trying to find the lessons in the present moment and the joy in the current situation.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

If you’re working on health or fitness goals, I KNOW the feeling of quiet desperation to get to that goal you’ve been trying for months or maybe years to achieve.

If you’re looking to find balance in your hectic schedule, you want nothing more than to get control over the chaos ASAP.

What I hope you hear from this is that while you can still look forward to the end result of all your efforts, don’t forget that the learning and the growing happens during the process.

<3 Lauren

“Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson