It is somewhat remarkable to be seated feet away from a childhood hero. A name still kept on your bedroom bookshelf. Once spoken religiously by you're elementary school librarian.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, I got the chance to meet Tomie Depaola.
During his presentation, he remembered his school days, getting in trouble with his teachers for doodling in his notebooks, and how sometimes he would choose the desk next to the window where he could just sit quietly and think. He told the audience with a tone of sarcasm, “Stop thinking, school is no place for thinking.”
But there was something about the reflective silence, that stayed with him. His newest picture book that he wrote and illustrated titled “Quiet” explores the idea of just being still. It is the appreciation for the softness in life that makes us also appreciate noise; Like the crickets in summer nights, dried leaves beneath our feet or the sound of Billy Joel on the piano.
Observing the students at UConn, I suddenly became aware of this forgotten mindset in the rapid pace of daily living. Impatience at the coffee counter, slipping through the door as the professor began his lecture, fast feet frantically trying to get out of the cold all showcased how fast-paced college students are. Perhaps this is why, when I held the door open for the tall guy wearing Beats headphones and untied sneakers, I was surprised by his response.
“Oh, Thank you.”
This was not a mumbled remark, spoken on autopilot as one is supposed to do. It was thoughtful, said with meaning, and a sense of awareness.
We came to the second door now, leading out of the dining hall, and I held it open again. “Thank you,” he chuckled.
This time his feet were faster than mine, reaching the door to the dorm before I did. He held the door wide open, letting me enter the warmth first.
“Thank you,” I said, with the same earnest respect he had given me.
He smiled, bowed a little. “You're welcome.”
This game of gratitude played with a complete stranger, reminded me of the importance of slowing down, noticing when someone goes out of their way to be kind, and doing the same for someone else.
It is perhaps our nature as somewhat self-centered young adults, to complain. Thinking of the world as a great impedance to our next move. The sun as an all too abrupt and cruel ending to restfulness. The exam, a nerve inducing experience. The walk to class as an impossible hurdle, in cold temperatures.
The truth is: we are lucky to learn. We are lucky to walk. We are lucky for the sun (when it is not a rainy Tuesday).
A study conducted by the University of Berkeley, explored the idea of gratitude on the mental well-being of college students. Three-hundred participants were divided into two groups, in which one recorded negative thoughts, while the other wrote letters of gratitude. While before the study may of the students struggled with mental health and depression, after the experiment the group who gave thanks were able to escape certain toxic emotions such as “resentment and envy.” .
Listening to Depaola recount his blessings, the love for his family and ability to create was inspiring. He reminded me of the importance to think more, and talk less. Most importantly he reminded me to value the trees and the people and the things we have in our lives.
Remember to be quiet. Reflect on the good things. Say thanks, once in a while.
Even without the turkey, or the mashed potatoes.
Kate Luongo is a contributor to The Daily Campus Life section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.