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Seeking Serenity

Natalie Torta, C'24

Welcome back, Mounties! I wish I had a more uplifting story for today’s post, but this past week has been pretty tough. In the past seven days I’ve written five papers and taken four exams, not to mention the thirty hours I put in at work. Between homework, studying, and stocking shelves, I’ve spent little to no time taking care of my domestic and personal responsibilities, so, on top of all that, my room is an absolute mess, I’m substituting coffee for meals, and I’m only sleeping six hours a night, give or take a few. In summation, I look (and feel) a hot mess.

Reflecting on this week in particular, I’ve realized that one of the things I miss the most about the Mount is the opportunity to escape the madness of the “work-a-day world” (see Joseph Pieper’s The Philosophical Act, featured in exam number one from this past week – I did do the reading, Dr. Miller!). If I ever needed to just take a step back, I had plenty of options. Anxious about upcoming assignments? Take a walk around the seminary to clear your head. Need someplace quiet to read a book? The grotto has literally dozens of seating options, each more beautiful than the last. Especially when I've been pushing through work all day and just hit a wall, an accomplishment, even as small and unrelated as exercise, can provide exactly the recharge I need. Lately, I've felt trapped in a constant loop of class, work, homework, repeat. Neither my schedule nor my grades can afford breaks and, even if I found myself with a spare hour, "external factors" still prevent peace. Living at home with three sisters definitely has benefits, but quiet is certainly not one of them. That, and transportation, which I would need to reach any place providing even some sense of calm; with only two cars between the six of us, opportunities to escape don't come very often. The best I’ve found so far is pre-lunch-rush Panera, so maybe that will tell you something about my current stress (and caffeine) levels.

At the Mount, my favorite escape option, by far, was the DiNunzio walking trail around the ARCC-side of campus. Starting with pavement right outside the softball field and transitioning to gravel, then a dirt path that wound deeper into the woods, the trail was the ultimate getaway from the (sometimes overwhelming) activity of campus. I would walk it often, sometimes opting for the additional loop that added a mile around the solar panels. I loved that I could feel so far away from the university, but still safe knowing that it was just over the hill. The picture that I keep of the mountainside was taken from a specific point on this walk, at the end of an open field just before the tree line begins again. It's a view that my Snapchat story saw often and I wish, now more than ever, that I was right there on that trail.

Though Harrisburg doesn't provide too many opportunities to envelop myself in nature, I've been able to get more creative as the weather has improved. Over the past few days, I've been able to work at my desk with the window open. Though it sounds insignificant, the slight breeze and early sunlight make all the difference in motivation. When it's just been "one of those days", I've found that simplification, even as basic as organization, can revive my work ethic through small tasks. Once I get over the stress of taking time out of my already limited schedule to do "unnecessary" things, I'm able to accomplish a small task, 15, 20 minutes tops, which acts as a mental reset. Making my bed or rewriting my calendar, though they seem like chores, offer escapes from the workday and opportunities for little victories to help motivate me to do the big things. It may not be four and a half miles, but it's an accomplishment nonetheless.

This week and the one to follow look pretty light in comparison to the one I just survived. I'm hopeful that they will offer more opportunities to create that serenity and rejuvenation that's long past due. Even if I don't have Mary's mountain to run to when I don't have the strength to keep striving, I do have a long to-do list and, if that doesn't work, plenty of coffee. Hopefully the next time we meet, I'm not some kind of caffeine addict (Claire, I'm looking at you). Until then, go Mount!

Natalie Torta, C'24