The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Ameena Hester.

There is penance in stillness, in empty houses, and quiet streets where not even a usual motorcycle vrooms by. Transfixed by passing clouds of absolute nothingness, in my bed, (which I should probably get out of). I had so many, so many pages of my journal saturated with goals. I sealed the deals with folded page corners, promises I’d get back to them. Ever since I came back home to the wintry season’s embrace here in the States from the bustle of Cairo, irresistible whims of ~ American life~ overwhelmed and lullabied me. Ordering breakfast foods in the wee hours of the night? Yeah. Grabbing a light jacket because it might possibly get cold (gasp) out? Yes ma’am. Going to bed at a decent time because there are no more papers to grade? Mhmm.

Things I Think of When I Smile Out of Nowhere: A note written on one of my students’ test papers; translated: ‘I love you Miss Ameena, very much!’ A plea for letting a few wrong answers slide? No matter- I love you too, Basma!

Time was mine. Why wasn’t I doing anything????? I read between my own lines (I’m working on that too) and asked a follow-up question.

Dadgummit, why did I feel so useless when I’m just being?

The epiphany inadvertently spellbound me to pan my glance into an invisible camera- across the room- like in The Office. Ironically, between two hampers of clothes I had yet to fold. A sudden, demanding stream of questions interrupted me, twirled me dizzy, and left. Did anaerobic gas exchange occur with or without Acetyl CoA? When did the Citric Acid part come in??? I wonder how those poor AP Bio kids are doing right now. Probably wishing for expeditious death. Where ever did I put my binder anyway? How am I going to pass any pre-recs? Forget math. Don’t even put a number in front of me. Fight me about it.

Of course, the dialogue (or inaudible soliloquy? I got the sudden urge to bite my copy of Hamlet, and get a hefty mouthful of it.) in its entirety occurred in my head, in a place where cellular respiration was (probably) happening.

A lot of wonderful things were happening. God woke me up this morning! I am loved! I can stretch! Honeybee populations regenerated at a rate of 27% over the past two years! Someone’s baby learned to walk today!

I’ve begun listening to podcasts; mostly about ancient medicine, nutrition, and yoga. I’ve discovered my new passions. I’ve simultaneously been working to advance my practice of yoga. Greetings from the underside of Sirsasana.

I made a bourgeois bowl of oatmeal and proceeded to inhale it. After the 4th or 5th pecan went down the wrong way, I sat down to have a date with myself.

I brought up those podcasts I’d been listening to. One in particular, spoken by a highly-qualified-physician-I-had-no-sound-evidence-to-prove-was-one, on the topic of emotional eating, chemodigestion and the microbiome. Bear with me. It bewitched me; mid-rep on the cursed rowing machine a couple weeks back. I listened intently as a great feeling donned on me.

He said, ‘Emotional eating is nearly inherent of our lifestyles: stressed, under time constraints; we eat because we’re bored, or can’t process our own emotions. Think of eating, not merely as a means of survival, but as a chance to bond body and mind, mind and soul. Our relationships with food are, at their very essence, a simulation of all the relationships we have. And how do we appreciate anything but slowly? Food, like relationships, can bring us a balance of happiness, challenge, compromise, intimacy, partnership, sometimes confusion. We must devote time and attention to what matters, take things slow, and feel. Thus, we learn to love, and to love ourselves.’

I proceeded to try, but all that my educated, semi-adult mind could envision was this scene, from my favorite Pixar film, Ratatouille:

Soon after my childish fit of giggles, I actually did attempt to feel. More in terms of examining the contents of mastication. Here were a few active thoughts from my munch session:

1) Why were blueberries blue on the outside, indigo when crushed, and whitish-green on the inside?
2) Oats have casings?????
3) I need to breathe more between bites.
4) Really enjoy blueberries.

In case you were wondering, I have since evolved the art of generating internal, productive thoughts while eating to be a bit more intelligent. It’s (I’m) a work in progress.

It took a long time to finish eating that bowl of bougie oatmeal (it had chia seeds, okay). For the rest of the time on that date with myself, I reflected on how one of my goals for this year was to “know myself.” I took an imaginary drag of a cigar and chortled to myself. I’ve grown sick of juxtaposing myself beside the lifestyles of school friends, of the pedantic and ordinary. The sun will rise and we will try again. I think about how much I’ve reprimanded myself for not doing more, when I should have been questioning why I hadn’t slept more, loved more, taken more time to do things that matter.

I read between my own lines and asked the real question: what was I rushing for, anyway?

The ghosts of deadlines passed haunt me. I am learning every day, and not in a lecture hall. I learnt 3 songs on a piano I’ve never before touched. Healing foods from the Sunnah and ayurveda. Bad words in Spanish. Urdu greetings! Reading Dr. Paul Farmer’s story like a fangirl. All of Alice Walker’s stories. Improving videography skills. Discovering coffee shops on the other side of town. Self-defense classes on a Wednesday night. Time discipline. Learning I actually hate coffee. Listening to my body.

I am learning to allow the space between where I want to be and where I am to inspire and terrify me.

Can you measure love in blueberries? In instant oats? Can you laugh with mouthfuls of pomegranate arils? How much attention do you give to the kale between your teeth? Can you thank all the bees and dandelions that made this honey possible?

In between goals is a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed. Someday you will look back and know exactly why it had to happen.