12/12/2012 03:35 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2013

The Importance of Pausing

"And how should I begin?"
-- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

'Tis the season!

If you -- like me -- are in college, odds are very, very good that you're going to have to study before you can enjoy the peculiar ecstasies of loafing through winter recess. As I've grown older, I've found that the real tragedies of exam week occur, ironically enough, outside of class.

Our faces are pinched and drawn, it's nearly impossible to find a table in the library (I'm not even going to mention the bleakness of your favorite café), and stress is our constant bedfellow -- for anyone in school, this season sucks.

That's why, this year, I've resolved to conscientiously object: I will make time to pause and sniff at those metaphorical roses, even if it means seeing the sun rise.

So far, it's worked.

I've met some wonderful people -- who are just as oppressed by finals stress as myself -- and I've had some good times with them; we drink, we laugh, we "study." I'm of the opinion that most learning in college happens when we least expect it: it's found somewhere between writing papers and cramming for huge exams, most often in those 3 a.m. procrastination sessions when everyone's somehow on the same page, somehow not ready to sleep, somehow able to speak their inner thoughts plainly, somehow still willing to shoot the shit.

I had a statistics final last week. Immediately before the catastrophe, I got the idea to re-read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock on the implicit recommendation of a new friend (whom I met "smelling the roses" at a party, no less). While it didn't make me more prepared for the test, I did feel something suspiciously like erudition creep into my brain. Which, I suppose, is precisely the point of education.

This new friend of mine is an Eliot junkie (her finals M.O. is to meditate on her own mortality during the witching hours -- very twentysomething), and her obsession has managed to enrich my life. Now, I'm not quite so far gone with finals stress as she is, but she raised an interesting point (and wrote on it here). In a nutshell: there are things we must face -- like finals and graduation -- that are inevitably terrifying, and, in the meantime, we must find ways to live in spite of them. (And perhaps even to spite them.)

I think it was Mark Twain who said, "Never let your schooling interfere with your education." This time of year, his sentiments ring especially true: Put down that book, at least for a little while -- grab a cold one and a poem, and relish being alive. Watch the sunrise.

And yes: I'd recommend Eliot.