In my Religion and Philosophy class last year, I was exposed to different philosophies’ beliefs regarding the meaning of life. In Daoism, the meaning of life meant following the “Way,” an abstract concept that cannot be standardized. In Stoicism, it meant being dispassionate and pursuing perfection through reason. In Epicureanism, it meant freeing yourself from pain by living a relatively “horizontal” life. For me, it’s fascination. Not the typical academic fascination that we usually think of, but the fascination that comes with human interaction.
Over the course of my life, I have met many fascinating souls. These people all possessed an air of individuality that, to this day, I have not found in any others. Two of them I shall share today.
In eighth grade, I had an English teacher whom I will refer to as Ms. Mary. During the first semester of the year, our class read Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” We had daily quizzes to confirm that we had read the assigned chapters, but the frequency of these quizzes was not what would make me remember Ms. Mary forever. Rather, it was the questions on them. To this day, I still remember that Lowood Institution was 50 miles away from the chapel, and I still remember the question I missed on my final: “what color were Mr. Rochester’s curtains?” Blue and golden. If you’re thinking that the number 50 and the colors blue and golden held any significance in the novel, I regretfully have to disagree with you.
During the process of trying to remember all the miniscule, rather insignificant details, I admit I struggled. Even though it was always an unpredictable game of testing my memory the next day, I still feared missing an age of a character, a random distance, or the apparel of a passerby on the street. Of course, I had already learned to love this teacher, so it was never an overwhelming amount of fear, just a little tension that persisted throughout the term.
Oddly enough, I soon realized that I was fascinated not only by her unique character that previously existed out of my imagination, but also by the unexpected impact that her ways had on me. Though mildly annoying through the process, her approach had added an unforeseen joy by the time I finished the book. For the first time, I felt a certain mastery toward a book, an optimism that perhaps nobody could know more about “Jane Eyre” than the author herself and those in my class. Looking back, I now smile at those memories in the classroom. I laugh at how I could never really be mad at missing a question because of how hilariously ridiculous the question was. I guess my fascination started as early on as then, as an initial annoyance at Ms. Mary for asking such random questions would almost always immediately die down, and a new wave of ironical, inexplicable warmth––now recognizable as subconscious appreciation––would pass by.
At Andover, I met someone from my physics class whom I will refer to as Joe. Even though we were only in the same physics class for one term, that time was enough for me to befriend him. I sat behind Joe and could always see what he was doing, if I so desired. I will never forget the day I peeked in front of me and saw, on the table, one of Southwest Airlines’s most distinguishable creations: their bright yellow, red, and blue-striped peanut lunchbox. Inside the lunchbox were not packets of peanuts but instead, stationery. Frankly, to see a peanut box as a pencil case from an airline––and not, in comparison, a brand like Pilot––lying on the table on a random Monday took me by surprise.
I immediately took interest in Joe’s passion for Southwest, and I soon learned that he could practically recite everything and anything from the airline’s website. I learned all about Southwest from its choice to not assign seats, its value compared to other airlines, to the places I could go (and couldn’t go) if I boarded their flights. A few days ago, when I learned that Joe wanted to become an engineer for Southwest in the future, I was not surprised and could only stand in awe of this clear goal at such a young age. I’ll admit: At first, it was Joe’s choice to love an airline that piqued my curiosity, yet as time went on, I realized that it was his passion that impacted me. Similar to Ms. Mary, Joe’s character fascinated me because he had so positively extended beyond the scope of personalities I could imagine.
Since birth, we have read hundreds of stories and vicariously interacted with hundreds of characters, fictional and realistic alike. Every once in a while, we bump into a friend who fascinates us in the same manner as our favorite fictional character. They add a touch of color, a new vibrance, a surprise, into our lives. We become fascinated by their personalities and realize that, with their presence, we consider the most mundane objects and ideas––even a random number in a book, a peanut lunchbox––in a different light. Even with the multitude of human interactions that may convince us to believe in only 19 MBTIs, they break our expectations and exist beyond our imagination of how a character can be.
Together, we make memories with them and guard those memories in the purest places of our heart. That day when we find ourselves accidentally reaccessing those memories, we realize: how lucky are we to meet one fascinating soul, let alone many?