Praise For Our Presence

I am taking a break from my “100 Strangers” project because something deeply radical happened to me today.

Here at good old college, I have a few different types of classes. Allow me to explain what I mean by “different”. I’m not talking about particular subjects, or advanced variations of classes, I mean that I’m in certain seminars where one must diligently take note of every word the professor utters. At the same time, I’m also enrolled classes where one may prefer to online shop for some fresh new fall kicks.. (take a guess at to which I prefer)

*Dear Mom and Dad, when you read this, just skip that last part. I’m very studious and doing fabulous and always pay attention and am going to pass every class with flying colors! Also, Mom, which looks better with dark-wash jeans, brown or black boots?*

However, I have one class in particular where I’m not forced to stain my hand with pen ink or have ever felt the urge to scroll through DSW. The only thing I want to do in this time is listen.

And listen some more.

And speak.

And be heard.

And then listen all over again.

Today in particular, this desire was confirmed as I swooned in the effects of an underrated and underestimated activity: the simple act of giving a compliment. Opening each day with a journaling prompt, the idea of the day was to “compliment your neighbor” and within less than half an hour, the room appeared to glow. Instructed to compliment the person to our left, right, and straight across, nothing but pure appreciation was given and received.

I am choosing to write about this because college can be a very impersonal time, despite being constantly surrounded by thousands of people. These aren’t the small-town sidewalks you grew up on, and there isn’t always a familiar face when you walk around campus, eat at the dining hall, or study in the library.

With this in mind, it’s hard to not feel invisible and silent. It’s hard to avoid feeling like another statistic; a number on the class roster, a name in the directory, or a figure in the University bank account.

It’s hard to not feel alone.

But today, as we turned to the people surrounding us and recognized their existence, I heard compliments on smiles, passions, accents, welcoming personas, positive attitudes, and most simply put, compliments on their individual presence in the grand scheme of things.

And you know what? I didn’t feel alone at all.

For the first time today in college, I was intentionally seen and acknowledged. I also got to witness the visible change of atmosphere throughout the activity, and I’m not sure there will ever be another “class” like this. This class, a public speaking course, has become more of a therapy for me than just another seminar on campus.

In the first month alone, we have laughed together, cried together, and affirmed together the fact that we are safe now; we aren’t alone in this place or this time of our life.

Joyful to simply be present,

Madeleine Rheinheimer

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