Mariah Proctor is a senior at BYU on study abroad in Vienna, Austria.
I always giggle a little inside when I’m flying high from some exhibition or historical experience and they kindly direct me to exit through the gift shop. The other-worldly suspension of present-day reality that I am often experiencing at that moment tends to drop at that point, as I am thrust into the lovely wisdom of an economic model. They’re smart to do it that way though, particularly as I exit through art museum gift shops, the shrapnel in my pocket starts to buzz with the anticipation of my inevitable purchase of art prints and posters in a futile attempt to preserve the inspiration that the original images have just provoked in me.
Those museum stores are mostly full of novelty items, really kitschy products that are sort of silly, but actually often make pretty funny gifts for people. I don’t want to say that those giant pencils or vintage-packaged gum get me every time, but those giant pencils and vintage-packaged gum? They get me every time. I don’t mean that I get them every time, but the temptation to purchase is persistent. Another item that is standard fare for such places, an item I would probably never buy, but that I always try out, is the oh-so-mystical mood ring.
My host family took my roommate and me to their home in the country for our last Saturday in Austria (yea, strangely I am already in the dénouement of this experience where everything is a “last”). They took us to one of the many castles that stare down at the Danube valley from their archaic and lofty perches, and it was in the gift shop of Aggstein castle that I stopped for a moment to try on a mood ring on our way onward and outward. I waited a moment for the color to change and was shocked as I looked at the key to my mood diagnosis and found that the little fortuneteller had declared me to be “happy.”
Now, I know that mood rings have no actual ability to decipher the hidden secrets of one’s innermost emotional state. I’m sure that it is temperature not temperament that sets those colors changing, but I was still in awe of what the tiny ring told me that I am. I have never, in my recollection, put on a gift store mood ring without it telling me that I was either ‘depressed’ or ‘in love’—most likely I was depressed about love all those times, and these things really are psychic. Conflicted and emotional are the types of moods ascribed to me, but ‘happy’ I have never been.
But I am happy and it isn’t the first time, but it took a little piece of disposable shenanigan to make me admit it to myself. My happiness now is different than it has ever been before because I am different than I have ever been before. I keep a pretty intense journal and people often comment on it because it’s so full of scraps and ticket stubs and (the part people don’t immediately see) thoughts. I learned long ago not to wait to write until I had time to catch up on what I have neglected to write about because before long the days are gone, the thoughts are gone, and the you that thought them is gone.
I never lie about what day it is in my journal, never write July 4 when it’s now the 8th even if I know I will only be writing about the events of that most recent Independence Day. I want my personal record to be as accurate a rendering of my life and experiences as it can possibly be and that means recording the correct date for when I thought a certain way or when I felt so strongly about a particular thing. Each entry captures an instant, merely a moment in what is otherwise a rushing river of my life. I am already a changed person right now from who I was when I sat down to begin this article.
Fundamentally I will always be what I have always been, but I love that as things flutter in and out of my brain and new experience stretches me directions that I didn’t even know existed, the person that I am will never again be a person who has never thought of that, or never seen that. I will always be growing and stretching and straining and renewing. Even once I have finished savoring the newness of a thought, I am still liable to find another facet of it later that will make the whole thing new and delicious again.
I used to view what from another perspective is the mutable and fleeting nature of mortality as tragic and overwhelming. I would walk along and almost physically feel the little frame of the videogame screen trailing along behind me that meant that I can’t turn around and go back, even should I wish it. Life barreled on and that scared me. As soon as I grew attached to anything it was over, and people move on, and life gets complicated and people you wish you were still close enough to confide in have moved on to being other people’s confidantes. I didn’t appreciate the feeling of everything always slipping away even though I had many moments when I realized that what I have now is better than what I had then.
Something about this summer has made me newly capable. I experience spells of empowerment and each time it feels different than it ever has before, and I don’t think I could feel more confident or more able, but that was July 22 Mariah and this is August 7 Mariah. Already I am more confident and more capable than I was then. The ‘what am I doing with my life’ dilemma that I am constantly in the throes of is still clear and present, but I’ve caught a whiff of what’s coming, and each moment that passes is not something lost (like that other Mariah was wont to mourn), but one wonderful moment closer to being allowed to partake of what I can at this moment only imagine. This newest model of me, she’s letting go of the past in a way no previous model could, and it is that free person—-traveling so much lighter now than she was before—that a mood ring can be accurate in declaring ‘happy.’