When I was 7 years old, I tucked myself between my parents on our living room sofa and watched the very first airing of the finale of “Friends.” Much of the humor and plot flew right over my innocent little head, but 12 years later, I can still remember the rapidity with which tears sprung to my eyes when Ross spun around to discover that Rachel had gotten off her plane to be with him after all.
On a good day, I’m lucky if I can remember to set an alarm for my morning classes. Honestly, I’m lucky if I can remember what I ate for breakfast.
But somehow, in spite of my faulty memory and my acute absentmindedness, there are a handful of seemingly insignificant moments in time that remain staunchly embedded in the patchwork of my mind — moments that, regardless of how many years pass, I can recollect with a clarity that defies logic.
I doubt that the producers of “Friends” had even the slightest inkling in 2004 that their series’ finale would leave such a tremendous impact on a 7-year-old girl. Likewise, I doubt my pre-algebra teacher knows just how happy he made me on the first day of sixth grade when he pronounced my full name correctly on his first try. And I highly doubt the man I saw outside my favorite nail salon four months ago realizes how shocked I was when I saw him drop to his knees on the sidewalk and beg his ex to let him visit their daughter.
But their words still reverberate plainly in my head every time I conjure up these memories. I can recall the exact quiver of Rachel’s chin and the precise look of wonderment in Ross’ eyes. I can still remember the the exact burst of relief I felt when my sixth grade teacher glanced down at his roll call clipboard and made history as the only instructor who didn’t falter at the sight of my surname.
I’m almost 19 years old now, but I can still revisit — no, relive — these moments as if they happened yesterday. They form the basis of my “forever collection” — the odd collection of vivid memories that I will continue to harbor 10, 20, even 50 years down the line.
And I can’t help but wonder if at some point within the past 19 years, I ever said or did something significant enough to become a part of someone else’s forever collection. I wonder whether I have ever touched someone’s day, whether I have ever completely changed someone’s course of action or whether I have ever truly tugged at someone’s heartstrings.
After all, I first learned about the power of sacrifice from an episode of a sitcom. And a math teacher helped me appreciate the uniqueness of my name.
And four months ago, a total stranger on Telegraph Avenue inspired me to write this column.
We can never fully anticipate the consequences of our actions. The best we can do is attempt to understand just how powerful our actions can be.
I’m more aware of my words and gestures now than I have ever been before. I make sure to close my eyes and release a breath before dashing off an angry text. I always return smiles to strangers on the street and I slave, fret and agonize over every single sentence I write for The Daily Californian.
Wallowing in regret for three hours over a stupid, shallow text message delivered in the heat of a moment is not a situation I take pride in.
The little jolt of excitement I experience when I see an unread email from a source or a reader the morning after an article I wrote was published, however, is one of the most humbling yet empowering feelings in the world. Nothing compares to the knowledge that something you did made a good impression.
So the next time you are presented with the opportunity to influence something, take a moment and reevaluate. The drunken, bitter voicemail you leave your ex could become the poisonous cherry on top of their already difficult day. The spiteful, unfair review you pen on RateMyProfessors might dissuade a future student from taking a class they are genuinely interested in.
On the contrary, the “thank you” you grace your bus driver with when disembarking the vehicle could be a ray of sunshine in the midst of an otherwise dreary morning. The lifestyle blog you start on a whim has the potential to inspire thousands grappling with the same issues you are. The generous tip you leave your friendly waiter might help cover the cost of an expensive textbook.
And who knows? You might even become a shiny, new addition to somebody’s forever collection.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the Summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected.
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