The Importance of Being Present

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“Hey! What are you doing here? How is Mystic?”

I’m contently curled up in a corner table in Tunnel City, the coffee shop at Williams College. We had a joint Oceanography-Marine Policy class on Tuesday in honor of Earth Day, and I’m taking advantage of our three-day weekend to see the friends I left behind for the semester. In the past few days, I’ve noticed a theme in the general reaction to my arrival: strange looks become those of recognition before I am extensively interrogated about my experience at Mystic. I can’t help but feel a smile playing at the corner of my lips whenever I try to respond in an appropriate amount of time – I could talk for hours about life in the coastal community, our amazing trips, our roles in mitigating climate change, the topics of my research papers, and my friends in the program, but I’ve learned to condense a suitable amount of information into a roughly five-minute spiel.

Still, I find myself struggling with the insufficiency of my words: how can I describe the essence of the Williams-Mystic Program, when every minute detail seems to have such significance? Almost every conversation ends with the enthusiastic suggestion: “Please visit me! You have to see it for yourself” or, for the lucky few still eligible, “You should seriously consider the Program!”

It only took a few days of separation from Mystic to make me realize the greatest impact Williams-Mystic has had on my life. It has taught me to feel present, to truly appreciate every component of myself, to indulge in my passions and share them, and to surround myself with people who allow me to do so. Quotidian stresses have lost their importance; my definition of self-worth no longer relies on my grades, on my athleticism, on my image. In exploring the sheer vastness of the sea, I have somehow found my way into a community of people who encourage me to also delve into the depths of myself by focusing my attention on the values that I hold important.

As I gain greater perspective of the world around us and focus on my sense of place here in Mystic, I am much more accepting of myself, a peace that frequently eludes me when I choose to ignore the bigger picture. Ironically, it takes a three-hour drive and a hundred and fifty miles of separation to create such self-reflection. Still, it’s reassuring to think that in three weeks I will be able to carry my presence with me as I depart from the very place that allowed me to find it.

Fair Winds,
Alex

Mystic Moments: Family & Friends Day

Aloft_FF Day

It is 2:30 pm, and I am sitting outside of Mallory House, forced to don a pair of sunglasses that I haven’t used since we were onboard the Corwith Cramer as I read Steinbeck’s The Log of the Sea of Cortez. The sun’s rays warm my legs, back, and face as I am periodically distracted by the shouts of children in the Seaport across the street. Molly and Rebecca sit next to me, hoping to add some color to skin that has been covered for far too long.

We are taking a well-deserved break from our positions as ambassadors of Mystic, which we adopted this weekend for “Family and Friends Day.” It was an incredible day of demonstrating the essence of the Program to those who had so long sought to understand our lives this semester. We sailed, we sang, we blacksmithed, we climbed aloft; we walked around the Seaport, ate ice cream sundaes outside of Drawbridge Ice Cream Shop, and spent the afternoon drinking iced tea at Bartleby’s Coffee Shop. My grandmother interrogated Glenn Gordinier about his views on Native American history and the French-Pequot War (which took place right over the bridge), while my grandpa swapped stories with Rich King at lunch over second and third helpings of homemade desserts. As I saw my friends with their families, significant others, and miscellaneous visitors, I felt as if these moments held greater significance. Personally, as soon as I pulled off I-95 on Friday afternoon—grandparents in tow—to see the sun sparkling in the estuary, it was as if I were seeing Mystic through new eyes once again.

As we have finally settled into a routine over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that my experience in this program can be defined as a series of what I call “Mystic Moments.” While the field seminars serve to expand our sense of place by offering insight into new cultures and experiences, there is something to be said of the learning that occurs right here…the value of the intimate knowledge of this amazing area that only time and curiosity can provide. They come in many forms, often barely recognized or taken for granted, and yet when I reflect, I can only think of how unique these moments have become. I have spent hours driving around the town with Jess (our scientific instruments in tow), shouting “Plankton!” in response to the inquiring locals who see our nets and laughing under my breath as they walk away unenthused. I have attended Literature class in the gazebo on the Seaport Green, poorly attempting to imitate a Rachel Carson-style of writing while really daydreaming in the morning sun. I have had to stop my boat in the middle of the Mystic River as I received a call from the senator who co-authored the bill that is the focus of my Policy paper.

For the average Mystic student, these unreal experiences are simply part of life, but they are a part of life that I am just realizing, with five weeks left, that I will only possess for so long.  I am grateful to have had this weekend to reflect, to understand, and to share. Occasionally, it takes a grandfather to exclaim, “Look at that ship!” to make you realize just how lucky you truly are.

Fair Winds,

Alex