Amid a stack of titles that have long waited for me to turn to them, I crave reading that at once stretches my thinking and nourishes my soul. For recommendations of that sort, Maria Popova, whom I follow on Twitter at @brainpicker, has no peer. With her encouragement, I began David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
With the passion of a poet and the precision of a marine zoologist, Mr. Whyte reveals to me word meanings that I now recognize in my experiences but that had not previously been apparent to me. His short pieces work best in single sittings, each to be pondered and relished. Among the 52 words he describes, in separate chapters, are ambition, genius, joy, longing, pain, regret, and vulnerability.
Of the word gratitude, he writes: "Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life."
In the coming year, I want to pay attention more fully and to be more present. That means switching up routines — increasing opportunities to attend campus and community events that are new for me and to interact with novel groupings of individuals. Limiting the multitasking that draws me away from conversations and toward the ubiquitous emails will help. And I wish to express spontaneously my gratitude for those with whom I share this life.
Elizabeth J. Stroble is president of Webster University.