Opinions, Column

Moss Eye View

To begin, I’ll assume you are like me. This is to say that you’re a neurotic, and you just happen to be the type of neurotic who dreads decision-making. Simple questions of either/or — either you could take Painting I: Foundations next semester or that 3000-level required-for-your-major class — are life-changing confrontations. These confrontations come with inevitable realities (decide now: happy and artistic or bored and realistic), and you find these interactions quite unpleasant.

Let it suffice to say you applied to 18 colleges to “keep your options open,” and you haven’t opened the transfer portal yet on the Common App, but you certainly haven’t not thought seriously about doing so. After all, you want the very best you can get out of college—isn’t that what any college student should want? You fear deviating from this ideal.  

  Your fears are not unfounded. Your parents worked hard to pay for your tuition, and the thought of not graduating summa cum frappe-latte inspires carnal and instinctual fear. Perhaps your parents both work consuming Wall Street jobs so you walk around this college with the omnipresence of familial expectations on your mind to be met. Perhaps the question of your parents’ occupation, for you, is less a friendly get-to-know-you exchange and more an invasion of privacy — an accusation that no, you do not come from a family of State Department workers or banking millionaires. All this is to say, you, fearing what you fear, are not an abnormal student at this college. 

If you are a typical student with these typical fears, I’d like to remind you of a natural spectacle you may overlook: moss.

Waiting in the recesses of your awareness, mosses abound. To look at the intricacies of a moss carpet and feel content with this simple, small marvel, you stop for a moment, and you remember what it feels like to stop. 

And so now you still haven’t declared your major, and you still don’t know how you’re going to pass that business statistics exam (in no way did I sign up for math), but maybe you are, now, a little more aware of the bryologist’s plight: lost too often in worries, we simply don’t pay enough attention to the momentary joys of moss.

Your moment of pause ends with this thought, and you remember those important things you scheduled time today to worry about. You remember, with a rather sudden desperation, how humiliating it would be if Julia really doesn’t want to be in the eight-man (she hasn’t sent anything in the group chat, ever) and she’s just been acting nice this whole time, and wouldn’t that break up the rest of the group? 

To these concerns, please indulge a metaphorical reply:

If you are overly neurotic, you are attentive, and here is the hidden key to that sense of ease which pause invites. You take that time to rest and to study the mosses, and you sit back in that well-loved seat of childlike wonder. Though you toil and inhale coffee in O’Neill and hope your scribbled philosophy notes seep into your brain, mosses mass patiently and calmly at the bases of trees and on the roofs of bus stops. 

Ecologically, your intense fascination with the moss-phenomenon is well-founded. Mosses are small, usually clumped, non-vascular, flowerless plants belonging to the division Bryophyta. They grow only in areas which meet a specific humidity, shade, moisture, and substrate criteria. 

 In Japan, Moss gardening has long-standing cultural significance (especially in monastic contexts). Bryophyta cultivation has no North American analogue. In the Northern Forest of this continent, we live out relatively mossless lives—unless you seek them out diligently. Likewise, we must seek peace, especially at such a college, in such a city — we must seek moments of pause. 

I’ll spare you any more undo narrative musing and assume that you’re smart, capable, and that—by evidence of your attending Boston College—you have been able to trust your capacity for rational thought to propel you through life. It is your specific tendency toward deep thought  that also causes you to overthink. Notwithstanding your intelligence and your diligence, I suggest to you that you become more invested to look unto the mosses and let that calm speak to you. Wherever you may find them, sit in amazement at their growth—entirely unconcerned with your anxieties—and recognize how you, too, are growing. Study the mosses of your own life—those unrealized moments of joy always present. 

Thus far I’ve given you this story in reflections and metaphors of what I am actually describing. If you’ll entertain one last reflection, consider the words of Philippe Petit, the man who tightrope-walked between the World Trade Center, on fear: 

How to Silence the Music of Fear

“Never cover your ears. On the contrary, face the music and explore its layered construction … note after note, extract the silences that fell in the staves. Once the silences are caught, walk away with them swiftly and peacefully.” 

I ask you, dear neurotic, to do something similar. Amid your swirling anxieties, look inward toward the marvel of your own resilience. Look unto a world that abounds in mosses, growing patiently, steadily, perpetually, despite your struggles, despite fears that terrify. 

Featured Graphic by Liz Schwab/ Heights Editor

Other Images by Benjamin Burke/ Heights Columnist

February 20, 2022