This fall, PEN/Faulkner had the privilege of being joined by three amazing interns. Before they left us, they each wrote essays inspired by their time in the organization. It’s our honor to share them with you, starting with this piece by Anique Jones:
LOOKING THROUGH THE GLASS
A small bookstore sits between a chic & casual wine bar and Turkish café in the entrance of Georgetown. It’s atypical. There aren’t defined rows or a plethora of subjects to choose from. There are two floors, the second smaller than the one below it. It looks like a generational town-home; smells of old wood, paper, adhesive, and ink; and seems as if it had its furniture removed to accommodate a lifelong worth of wisdom. There I stand in front of a glass window that emanates a peaceful aura, looking at an elderly couple take their glasses off and put them back on to read the premises of books. In that moment it seems as if a distinct world exists behind the window, a world that escaped from a pretentious neighborhood dripping in name brands. The fluorescent store sign calls my name and, before I kn0w it, I am on the top floor with Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change in my hand.
I flip to a random page and start reading.
“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment.”
Pause. What? I slide the book back into the middle of the stack. I circulate the mom-and-pop shop two, even three, times.
* * *
I ended up in the same spot with the same book in my hand. Ten minutes later, I was handing the girl at the register—who had a soothing voice, wavy brown hair, and angelic facial features—a $20 bill.
In that moment I posed this question: How can it be possible for one to lead a beautiful life in the midst of uncertainty and change?
As I stood with the book in my hand, I entered into a period of reflection. My thoughts ruminated. It was almost as if I was looking for a definitive answer to tell me what was beautiful about a life absent of certainty and thrilled for change. In the course of my life, all I had ever experienced were the negative effects of uncertainty. As for change, that was always a complex process I had to grapple with. So, was Chödrön telling me that there was an answer to fix the troubling emotions that came with uncertainty and change, like a textbook solution or a definition to a word?
Hadn’t I just spent the entire summer meditating on books that spoke of the importance of remaining grounded in the most difficult of times, that taught me the meaning of joy, and that championed peaceful living? Hadn’t I been living alone in a studio apartment in Foggy Bottom trying to find my happy place, teaching myself how to fight destructive emotions that plagued me? So, now, was this all wrong? I was supposed to not fight? And not remain grounded but ease into every single one of my feelings?
Plot twist. You thought I was going to say the exact opposite of what I just said; that I was going to put up a fight against the concept of Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, but I have done neither.
Because it was in that moment of contemplation that I was able to piece my questions and thoughts together. I realized that the decisions I have made throughout my lifetime have dictated my future, but they were all made with a leap of good faith. When I applied to ten-plus colleges, did I know which one I was going to choose? Did I know whether or not George Washington University was a good fit for me? Was I really prepared to leave my family and New Jersey behind? Could I have ever predicted that the major I intended on pursuing my degree in would change within the course of my first semester? The answer is no, no, and no.
This blog post hasn’t been written for me to thoroughly analyze all of the above. Rather, I have been interested in shedding light on a topic that perpetuates in society: that the human experience pits individuals against themselves. We live this life wanting to be certain about every decision we make: love, family, career. But the groundbreaking truth is that we will never know whether X decision was right until we have gone through the experience. Maybe it will take more than these words for that to sink in. That is okay. However, I must say that if you stop and think for one moment about your greatest life experiences and lessons, you will find how that is true.
If I had not looked through that glass window, I may have never discovered that the beauty in life rests in uncertainty, change, and the pursuit of happiness. If one thing is certain, it is that those three concepts are inevitable to the human condition. As I closed the book after reading the last page, the glass window was no longer the one from Georgetown. It was a mirror.