Staying Fascinated

Tomorrow I visit the high school for my annual talk to graduating seniors about what they can expect in a college writing classroom. I also talk about what it means to thrive in college and “best practices” as I see them.

I’m adding something new this year.

As I see the anxiety and despair rising among college students, I think of what’s normally happening in my own heart and mind when I’m truly joyful and deeply at peace. It’s something akin to worship. It’s something close to awe. It’s something enchanting.

The verbs I’m looking for is this: fascinate.

One thing I’m adding to my list of best practices for college students: cultivating fascination. I’m so intrigued at how one cannot be both anxious and fascinated at the same time. One cannot be both miserable and fascinated at the same time.

How do you cultivate fascination? To begin, consider these questions: When was the last time you were truly fascinated by something? What was happening? What questions did you ask? What connections did you make?

For me, I cultivate fascination when I ask, “How did this get here? How does this work? Why is this? What must God be like if this marvelous thing is here? What else don’t I know? How does this connect to this?

Do you remember T.H. White’s words in The Once and Future King? He presents a scene where Merlin tries to cheer up a depressed Arthur. He writes, “The best thing for being sad. . . is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

I also love this quote from Emerson: “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Finally, consider the great poet A.R. Ammons who boldly said, “Anything looked at closely becomes wonderful.”

Learn. Find the miraculous. Look closely.

Stay fascinated.

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