Spreading cheer through simple surprises

Michael GentileI love surprises. I love the involuntary transition from monotony to magic, from another moment lived according to plan to the scene that hurls the map out of the window and floors the gas onward. I love sitting shotgun and feeling the mute vibration of tires veering right off the highway ramp; I love not needing to ask where we are going. I love being wrong, to soak up my own fallibility, to not have thought of the best next step. I love when the world, indifferent to what I asked for, writes the script.

But most of all, I love when my fellow men and women, fueled only by the desire to be good, take the story into their own hands to surprise another with a smile, to remind another cog in the machine that life is upon us and deserves to be savored.

SHANE ANDERSON / CC BY 2.0 I love sitting shotgun and not having to ask where we’re going.

SHANE ANDERSON / CC BY 2.0
I love sitting shotgun and not having to ask where we’re going.

As classmates we have the duty and privilege to surprise one another because otherwise the rigors of Hopkins will not loosen and the approaching winter will not stall. All too often during the final stretch of a semester we lose track of our own need to sleep and smile, to laugh and relax. We lose ourselves little by little, looking to eventually recuperate during winter break.

In this sense, it’s important to fill your roommate’s, your friend’s — even your lab partner’s — days with happiness that they may not have foreseen for themselves. That way, no one leaves themselves out of the lives that they were born to enjoy.
Surprises can come in all sizes, from the type that mesmerize you with thought and cause your heart to swell with warmth to those that may just supply a grin genuine enough to get you through a lecture.

Regardless, surprises bar judgment and critique, for they are in themselves infinitely better than the alternative of nothing at all. As long as your surprise aims for kindness, you can give a car or a hug, hold a party or a door, reunite your friend with a family member or a favorite song. Such sincere intention must spread and encompass our campus until kindness no longer surprises us but holds as custom, as the social identity of Hopkins.

The first step along this road must break down the idea that praises doing things for others as sacrifice, that bringing good comes with an opportunity cost. A life given to others is the most well-traveled; it lives without borders and learns the secrets of the human heart, never growing out of anyone’s life but up through them.

Though studying that extra hour may seem sensible, using it to bake a cake for your neighbor’s birthday transcends the left side of the brain and nourishes our soul, the most beautifully human thing that we possess. When we activate our soul by sharing it with others, our capacity to give, to love, to surprise each other each day with tiny little miracles grows infinite. Interwoven as such, we follow suit. We reach heights that are impossible on our own. We win.

Next time you see a fellow classmate slouching in disappointment or fatigue or boredom, don’t just spectate. Don’t hope that they solve their own problem. Instead, innovate. Buy them a cup of coffee (what’s a Dining Dollar anyway?). Tell them a joke; the anti-Towson meme usually works.

Ask them about their life: What made you smile today? What would you do with one wish right now? And then, brainstorm positivity, simplicity and connectivity. Let them know that the best moments of our life don’t require anything of us except to let go. Surprise them with their own power to surpass obligation, to give it all away one second and gain the world the next.

While obstacles may inevitably exist in greeting a stranger, innovation faces no bounds with friends. If you know that your friend faces a tough week ahead, reflect on their greatest heights and write the next one. Plan an adventure, one that they have no say in, or anything to say after. Leave a gift, perhaps one that reminds them of a fond memory or flashes forward to a future one. Say a joke, preferably one that reminds them to unclench their white-knuckled fists and to recycle their stress-stale air, to let their body restore its rightful equilibrium.

If anything, let them know how much you care about them. Although sad, the most surprising thing to us wonderful, insecure beings is the harmony of two hearts beating as one.

So today, revive that synchronization. Think of someone so deeply and caringly that you cannot imagine him or her without a smile, and then write the scene that best puts it on. Hold their character gently in your hands, mindful of all they deserve and of the path they currently travel and guide them to light. Give them a tale they would like to read, a sentiment that will endure in their soul forever.

Write the story for the twists, for the moments of triumph, for the emotions that we somehow feel without being related. Take their breath away and fill it with yours. Surprise them with the effortlessness and innateness of your connection, of the unending bond between protagonist and author and, most importantly, between humans.

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