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On feeling insignificant

10.11. 2017 Written By: Dominique Chew 541 Times read

Dominique Chew is a member of Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kansas. This article was originally published as the “New Voices” column in the October issue of The Mennonite magazine. To read more original columns each month, subscribe today. 

This year it felt like the seasons came and went more quickly than they ever had for me. I’m nearing a quarter century of life. I know fewer people than ever at my alma mater. I’m in the stage in life where I have friends getting married and having babies and buying houses and getting their doctorates. This all feels hard to believe when so many people my age talk about our futures with blatant uncertainty.

This year has also been one of loss and “I’ve got bad news” phone calls at 6 a.m. and days when I’m too weary to listen to NPR and feeling stuck and having uncomfortable conversations with close friends and traveling to a new place that’s beautiful but reminds me of the horrors of my home country.

In college, each Friday of my year of taking French courses, Madame asked us how our week had been. One day, all the students agreed that the week flew by especially quickly. She scoffed. She explained to us, in breathtaking French, that we were too young for time to move so quickly. Her theory was that as we age, as we accumulate years, we begin to perceive time as moving faster. The days and the weeks and our memories begin to run together because we’ve had so many of them. When we are young, we have lived less time and thus have less of it to confuse in our minds. We haven’t earned enough time for it to move so fast.

I come back to this lesson often and have other memories I associate with it. For example:

  • I once listened to a podcast that featured a story about a woman who had a condition that made her heart beat so loudly you could hear it when you were sitting next to her. At one point in the episode, she held the microphone up to her chest for all the listeners to hear. At first, I was amazed. Minutes later, I was sick to my stomach.
  • I’m terrified of the ocean. I can’t even watch underwater scenes in a film without my heart racing. I’ve braved my fears a few times, but ultimately, I want little to do with a body of water I can’t see the end or the bottom of.
  • I cried big tears over the eclipse. Big. I couldn’t see much from northern Indiana, but you bet I livestreamed people’s footage from across the country and cried each time the sky turned dark.
  • I heard an interview with a woman who researched the sounds of space. She shared some of the clips she had from the sun and Jupiter, and my whole body was covered in goosebumps.

You see, time—like the vastness of the ocean and space or the wonders of the human body—has the power to make me feel insignificant. It puts me in my place and reminds me there is more happening around me than I will ever understand or know. Within the world there exist processes and rituals that make the world turn (literally). Often this is terrifying. Often it’s overwhelming. Always—this idea that there are things bigger than me at work—makes me hopeful.

A couple of summers ago, while drinking coffee and catching up with an old friend who lives states away, I told her about some advocacy work I was doing, and she told me that is what brings her hope, that there are people she knows and loves doing work all over the world. Better yet, there are people she doesn’t know doing work all over the world.

Over the last several months, I have been desperately searching for hope. As the seasons change, the trees remind us how to let things go. Consider these our offerings to the earth or the universe or our communities. Consider it feeding your spirituality—things that are too heavy, or things that have died, or perhaps that have outgrown us. Remember that before we let them go, they flourished. We helped these things grow, and they fed us—over and over and over again.

I encourage you to seek out awesome wonder, weep big tears over the grand mysteries of the world and let yourself feel insignificant.

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