This hamster is tired. I’ve been running on this wheel for hours now, hacking away at my to-do list, slowly but surely before the day ends. Under the yellow lights of the Tisch Library reading room, the only sound to be heard is a symphony of syncopated typing as it fills the air with its percussive cacophony. I observe the engravings in the wood along the desk, tracing my fingers over messages from students past, as I continue to neglect the work in front of me. The creak of a door draws my head up from the desk towards the source of the sound. I know that I’m not the only one who’s this hopelessly bored because every time that familiar creaking blares a sea of heads rises to look at the new addition to our reading room. We’re all entertained for a second, but each head eventually falls again, resigning itself back to work. 

I’ve exhausted almost every distraction I can wring out of this room, and now the hamster wants to leave. This hamster wants to be somewhere else, even if it’s just for a few minutes. So I put my earbuds in and listen to “Somewhere” by Hauskey, and I get to escape for two minutes and fifty-one seconds. As the music plays, everything slows down. I’m no longer obsessing over tomorrow or next week or wondering what could be coming next. I’m inside the music, entwined in its rhythm. It moves, and I follow. The lyrics float around in my mind, taking me to a fictional land decorated with green skies and oceans made of ice cream where the sun never sets. Sweet melodies take me somewhere in the distance. 

Thursday morning rolls around and I’m back in the reading room. Today is almost exactly like yesterday, except the to-do list is different, and now tomorrow is Friday; I can almost see the light. As I flip through my assigned reading, my mind wanders, meditating on thoughts of lunch at Dewick, soft serve, and the extensive cereal selection at my disposal. Eventually it finds its way back, and I come to the bitter realization that I’ve absorbed nothing from the past three pages. 

Why is escapism such an indulgent source of entertainment? I ruminate over this question often. I think those of you who are also goal-oriented and obsessed with agendas and calendars and the control that they give you will understand when I say this: it is entirely disorienting when running on the wheel no longer feels fulfilling, even though it is the life we’ve chosen. We so rarely slow down enough to reflect on what we’re doing this all for. We work hard to get the perfect grades to get into the perfect school and get a perfect job so we can make the money to buy the perfect house with the perfect family and one day retire and finally be able to take a deep breath and say Wow, I’ve made it. That’s the dream, and we’re crazy for it. 

We’re insane to think that the first time we’ll feel happy, the first time we’ll truly feel at ease, is at 65, when we’ve retired. We see life as this great pilgrimage, where happiness is promised at some indiscriminate point in the future after we’ve achieved a certain level of success or whatever else we’re betting our happiness on. We spend nearly our whole lives on the gamble that happiness—that peace—is going to show up eventually, just as long as we keep doing what we’ve always done. We so firmly believe in that future that most of the time, we’re barely experiencing the moments leading up to that point. Rather than experiencing the climb, we’re constantly thinking about what life will be like at the mountain’s peak. We fantasize over the view at the top, the feeling of our aching body finally resting, but we forget to feel the ground beneath our feet and the sun on our skin as we make our ascent. Haven’t we felt it before? We all know what it’s like, working hard to get something, and when we finally do, it feels amazing. It feels fantastic—for a second or two. But then it all quickly fizzles away, and we become fixated on the next thing––happiness gets delayed again, placed at another indiscriminate point in the future, and the cycle repeats itself. Everything is a means to an end. The hamster never stops running. 

Music deconstructs that notion entirely. It has no end goal. Music is not made so you can hear one culminating, final note ring out that somehow makes the whole song worth it. No, music is made to be enjoyed in its entirety. Every note, the ebb and flow of song, even the rests, are all part of a journey made to be cherished as you experience it in the present moment. Music demands nothing from you except that you allow it to take you on a journey for as long as the song lasts. For a few minutes, you surrender yourself to experience something for no reason—no tangible purpose—other than to hear and to feel, to be affected in a way that doesn’t feed into the criteria and expectations on which we desperately stake the rest of our lives. With music, you can let go. There is no need to be constantly thinking of where things are going to lead because the point of music is not how it ends. There is no final destination, no peak, and no pinnacle for which to look. In music, there is only the now. 

Music is the way life should be. It should be explored and cherished every step along the way; not just at the peaks where the view is perfect and clear, but also along valleys and winding paths and through thick forests where it is hazy and mazelike. Music isn’t concerned with results, ends, or finales. It champions the very act of experiencing a certain moment in time. It values, more than anything else, the fact of our existence in the present. 

We often find ourselves looking to music as an escape from the monotony of our daily lives. But I look to music as a way to come home. Because isn’t it so easy, getting lost in our work and the madness of the day-to-day? And isn’t it so difficult, taking the time to reflect on life, to face the truth? Music brings the mind back to the present, a haven from all the distractions that rip us away from the moments we are currently experiencing. Music takes me on a journey, a journey home, so I can finally stop running and start living.